An aviation expert has described the circumstances which he believes may have led to the downing of EgyptAir Flight 804.
Former RAF pilot and flying instructor David Learmount was speaking on Sky News on the morning the Egyptian army declared it had found debris and personal belongings from the doomed flight.
Army spokesman Brig Gen Mohammed Samir said in a statement posted on Facebook that jets and naval vessels participating in the search had located the items 180 miles north of Alexandria. A body part, seats and suitcases have also been reportedly sighted.
Learmount, who is also Consulting Editor at Flight Global, urged caution in the absence of any official explanation, but admitted: “My money and a lot of people’s money is on this being sabotage, [though] it’s not certainly that.”
EgyptAir flight MH804 crashed after disappearing from the radar while carrying 66 passengers and crew from Paris to Cairo.
The Airbus 320 lost contact at 2.45 am local time on Thursday morning and no distress call was made by the pilots.
When asked if he thought it was more likely the aircraft had been targeted by a bomb or whether perhaps someone had got into the cockpit and forced the plane into the sea, he replied: “I think the bomb is the more likely. With the fast turnarounds that aeroplanes do today, it’s quite difficult to check every part of them.
“So if you have an employee who has access to the aeroplanes as a part of his or her job and they have been subverted by a terrorist organisation like Daesh [also known as Islamic State (IS), ISIS or ISIL], this could happen.
“We can theorise because we do know that the Sharm El Sheik disaster last year, the Russian airliner that came down over Sinai, we do know that that is sabotage but we still don’t know who did it and how they did it.”
Learmount, who has blogged for the Huffington Post UK and was often cited for his expert opinion in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, pointed out there are still holes in airport security despite increased surveillance since 9/11 and subsequent attacks.
He continued: “Any head of security at any airport is right to be worried about this. Now, Paris Charles de Gaulle's head of security actually did get rid of a few people who they thought might have been subverted by Daesh and that was after terror attacks in Paris over the last year or two. They are constantly aware of this. The trouble is, you can security clear an employee and they can then be subverted, they can then be got at by an idealistic organisation and converted and the person you had cleared for security no longer is secure.”
Mike Vivian, who is the former head of flight operations for the Civil Aviation Authority, echoed some of these concerns during an appearance on Good Morning Britain.
Speaking as French officials focused on a possible breach of security at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, Vivian was asked if he believed the crash was an “inside job”.
He replied: “Well that is a really interesting question and it is a worry that has been in security minds for a long time now.
“It is a major worry and I do not think it is insignificant that lots of people at Paris Charles de Gaulle lost their airside pass because of radicalisation.
“The question has to be how did they get there in the first place and what sort of screening is going on vis-à-vis these airport employees?”
Referring to the increased aviation security measures instated since 9/11, he revealed cockpits are still not completely secure.
“I would be dishonest if I said it was 100% secure because it isn’t,” he said.
On Friday Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on France-2 television there is "absolutely no indication" of the cause of the crash.
The junior minister for transport, Alain Vidalies, said on France-Info radio that "no theory is favored" at this stage and urged "the greatest caution."
A French military Falcon jet is helping in the search for debris. Vidalies said France could offer undersea search equipment and experts.
Amid fears it was an extremist attack, Vidalies defended security at Charles de Gaulle Airport, saying staff badges are revoked if there is the slightest security doubt.
Among the other scenarios which may have caused the plane to crash, Learmount explained: “If you look back to 2009 when an Air France Airbus A330 went missing in the south Atlantic… there was a momentary interruption to the air speed readings. It was only momentary but the pilots panicked and they then lost control of their aeroplane, mainly through what they did.
“That happened, it also happened at night, on a very dark night, like this one, at about 2 o’clock in the morning, like this one. It’s when the pilots are at their circadian lows… all I’m trying to say by this is we shouldn’t run away yet with the idea that this is certainly sabotage. It’s likely to be but there are other things it could be.”
Remarking on reports the plane made abrupt turns and suddenly lost altitude before vanishing from radar, Learmount admitted a stall may have occurred but pointed out that it is easy to correct as long as the pilot is aware of it.