PARIS An EgyptAir jet sent a series of signals indicating that smoke had been detected on board before it crashed into the Mediterranean on Thursday, France's air accident investigation agency said on Saturday.
A spokesman for the BEA agency said the signals did not indicate what caused the smoke or fire on board the plane, which plunged into the sea with 66 people on board as it was heading from Paris to Cairo.
But they offered the first clues as to what unfolded in the moments before the crash. One aviation source said that a fire on board would likely have generated multiple warning signals, while a sudden explosion may not have generated any.
Egypt said its navy had found human remains, wreckage and the personal belongings of passengers floating in the Mediterranean about 290 km (180 miles) north of Alexandria.
The army spokesman published pictures on Saturday on its official Facebook page of the recovered items, which included blue debris with EgyptAir markings, seat fabric with designs in the airline's colours, and a yellow lifejacket.
Analysis of the debris is likely to be key to determining what happened to the flight.
It was the third blow since October to Egypt's travel industry, still reeling from political unrest following the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
A suspected Islamic State bombing brought down a Russian airliner after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport in late October, killing all 224 people on board, and an EgyptAir plane was hijacked in March by a man wearing a fake suicide belt.
"These messages do not allow in any way to say what may have caused smoke or fire on board the aircraft," said a spokesman for the French BEA agency, which is assisting an official Egyptian investigation.
He added that the priority now was to find the two flight recorders, containing cockpit voice recordings and data readings, from the Airbus A320 which vanished from radar early on Thursday.
The flight data was sent through an automatic system called the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which routinely downloads maintenance and fault data to the airline operating the aircraft.
Aviation website Aviation Herald published a burst of seven messages broadcast over the space of three minutes. These included alarms about smoke in the lavatory as well as the aircraft's avionics area, which sits under the cockpit.
While suggesting a possible fire, the relatively short sequence of data gives no insight into pilot efforts to control the aircraft, nor does it show whether it fell in one piece or disintegrated in mid-air, two aviation safety experts said.
The aircraft was carrying 56 passengers, including a child and two infants, and 10 crew, EgyptAir said on Thursday. They included 30 Egyptian and 15 French nationals, along with citizens of 10 other countries.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was due to meet relatives of passengers in Paris on Saturday.
Egypt's navy, with help from French and other vessels, was searching an area north of Alexandria, just south of where the signal from the plane was lost early on Thursday.
EgyptAir Chairman Safwat Moslem told state television that the radius of the search zone was 40 miles, giving an area of 5,000 square miles, but said it may be expanded.
A European satellite spotted a 2 km-long oil slick in the Mediterranean, about 40 km southeast of the aircraft's last known position, the European Space Agency said.
(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)
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Published Date: May 21, 2016 16:15 PM | Updated Date: May 21, 2016 16:15 PM