ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
There are now multiple investigations to find out what caused an airliner to crash Saturday in Egypt. The plane, operated by the Russian carrier Metrojet, was headed to St. Petersburg from the Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh. The British foreign secretary said today that there is a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device onboard the aircraft. As a precaution, the U.K. has advised against all but essential travel through Sharm el-Sheikh. Christine Negroni reports on aviation safety, and I asked her if and when we'll know definitively if a bomb went off on the plan.
CHRISTINE NEGRONI: Well, I hate to say definitively regarding anything, but I will tell you that it is not going to be a mystery. An explosion, a terrorist act, these things are not subtle, there's evidence on the wreckage, there's evidence in the way the airplane was maintained. There's evidence in the security records and security cameras and just basic criminal detective work that goes on at the airport. All of that stuff will lead to a likely conclusion of what happened.
SIEGEL: The two countries most involved in this case are Russia because it was a Russian carrier and Egypt because it took off and crashed there. And both countries sound like they prefer an explanation of mechanical failure to a terrorist attack. Do they get to control the investigation or the disclosure of its findings?
NEGRONI: They control it to the extent that - Egypt controls it because it happened in Egypt and it has the right to do the investigation under the guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organization. But they can't kind of cheap everybody out. The guidelines also require that those parties with an interest in the investigation also be allowed to play a role, and that would include Russia because that's where the operator is located. That will include France because the airplane is of French manufacture. And if it turns out that engines were involved or some other component of the airplane, then that would involve that country as well. So they're not doing this in a dark closet, no. Can they manipulate the findings? Not easily, no. I don't think the public has reason to be concerned that someone's going to try and hide something.
SIEGEL: You said it should be easy to determine what caused this. If it comes down to a question - was it an explosive device, a bomb, or was it scuba diving equipment that was loaded into the hold of the aircraft? - that kind of distinction could be determined?
NEGRONI: Yes, there's all sorts of other things that could also potentially trigger an explosion on an airplane. So it's important that while people talk about this might've been an explosion, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a terrorist act. You know, if there's evidence that there was an explosion, and investigators may already have some inkling of that based on what they're finding from both the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data reporter, that doesn't tell them what the trigger of the explosion was or what in fact exploded.
SIEGEL: The investigations are underway. The crash was all on land. What would strike you as a reasonable timeframe to hear a conclusion from the investigators?
NEGRONI: There are two answers to that question. Before an official accident investigation concludes, months will pass, years could even pass. But before you and I and people listening to the news have an inkling of what happened, a much shorter period of time. I don't think more than two or three weeks tops before they will have found something that turns out to be what I call the eureka peace. OK, we have discovered there's explosive residue. We have discovered that this suspicious person boarded the airplane. That sort of, you know, just the detective work, the forensic and detective work, doesn't usually take too long.
SIEGEL: That's journalist Christine Negroni who writes the blog "Flying Lessons" about aviation safety. Thanks for talking with us.
NEGRONI: Thank you.
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