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Investigators Hope Recorders Will Give Clues To EgyptAir Crash


Egyptian investigators say they have found the second black box from Egypt Air flight 804, which weeks ago plunged into the Mediterranean. That crash took the lives of all 66 people on board. Searchers had recovered one of the plane's black boxes, the voice recorder yesterday. Investigators hope the black boxes will provide important clues as to why the plane went down. NPR's David Schaper has more.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Plane crash investigators say their job is a lot like piecing together a huge jigsaw puzzle, except that some of the pieces may be burned or pulverized beyond recognition and are often scattered over a debris field miles wide. When that debris field is miles underwater, it's a lot like looking for a needle in a vast farm field full of haystacks. So experts say this latest news is pretty encouraging.

ANTHONY BRICKHOUSE: This discovery of the cockpit voice recorder could be a huge piece of putting this puzzle back together.

SCHAPER: Anthony Brickhouse is an aviation safety professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is director of the school's plane crash lab. He says investigators will listen to the cockpit voice recorder for vital information in what the pilots say and in what they don't say.

BRICKHOUSE: You would listen to their voice to try to see if you could pick up on any stress in their voices. You would listen for inflection. Any warning sounds or alarms that might have been going off on the cockpit, that cockpit voice recorder would've picked up those sounds.

SCHAPER: And aviation safety consultant Erin Gormley says it's not just what can be heard that's important.

ERIN GORMLEY: The absence of certain information, certain alarms, certain discussions, certain sounds will also provide an indication of maybe what systems were operating correctly, which ones were not behaving the way they should have been.

SCHAPER: Data transmissions indicate the Airbus A320 appeared to be cruising normally over the Mediterranean as it entered Egyptian airspace. Radar images show the plane then jerked sharply to the left before spinning all the way around to the right and then plummeting toward the sea before disappearing from radar. Some of the last data transmissions indicate there may have been smoke on board.

Erin Gormley specialized in analyzing recorders as an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Ward. She says finding the second black box will be another big step forward.

GORMLEY: Having the flight data recorder makes life a lot easier because you are able to kind of get not just what the pilots are seeing, but what the aircraft is actually experiencing in the aircraft system.

SCHAPER: Egyptian authorities are taking the black boxes to Cairo to be analyzed. Experts caution it will take some time, but the information on those recorders along with physical evidence in the wreckage should tell the story of what went wrong with Egypt Air flight 804. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Schaper
David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.