The head of Egypt’s forensics authority has dismissed as premature a suggestion the small size of the body parts retrieved since the EgyptAir jet crashed indicated there had been an explosion on board.
Investigators are looking for clues in the human remains and debris recovered from the Mediterranean Sea.
EgyptAir flight 804 vanished from radar screens last Thursday, with 66 passengers and crew on board.
The Airbus 320’s black box recorders, which could explain what brought down the Paris-to-Cairo flight as it entered Egyptian air space, have not been located.
An Egyptian forensics official said 23 bags of body parts had been collected, the largest no bigger than the palm of a hand.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said their size pointed to an explosion, although no trace of explosives had been detected.
But Hisham Abdelhamid, head of Egypt’s forensics authority, said this assessment was “mere assumptions” and that it was too early to draw conclusions.
At least two other sources with direct knowledge of the investigation also said it would be premature to say what caused the plane to plunge into the sea.
“All we know is it disappeared suddenly without making a distress call,” one of them said, adding that only by analysing the black boxes or a large amount of debris could authorities begin to form a clearer picture.
The EgyptAir jet that disappeared last week did not show technical problems before taking off from Paris, sources within the Egyptian investigation committee say.
The sources say the plane did not make contact with Egyptian air traffic control, but Egyptian air traffic controllers were able to see it on radar on a border area between Egyptian and Greek airspace known as KUMBI, 260 nautical miles from Cairo.
Speaking on condition of anonymity late on Tuesday, the sources said the plane disappeared without swerving off radar screens after less than a minute of it entering Egyptian airspace.
Air traffic controllers from Greece and Egypt have given differing accounts of the plane’s final moments.
Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported on Tuesday that the plane had shown no technical problems before taking off, citing an Aircraft Technical Log signed by its pilot before take-off.
Al-Ahram published a scan of the technical log on its website. The paper said EgyptAir flight 804 transmitted 11 “electronic messages” starting at 2109 GMT on May 18 (0709 AEST May 19), about 3 1/2 hours before disappearing from radar screens with 66 passengers and crew on board.
The first two messages indicated the engines were functional. The third message came at 0026 GMT on May 19 and showed a rise in the temperature of the co-pilot’s window. The plane kept transmitting messages for the next three minutes before vanishing, Al-Ahram said.
Investigators do have a few scraps of data in the form of fault messages sent by the jet in the last minutes of flight, logging smoke alarms in the forward lavatory and an electronics bay just underneath, but they are tantalisingly incomplete.
Investigators also need to understand why, for example, there was no message indicating the autopilot had cut off, progressively handing control back to the pilots as systems failed and computers became unsure what to do.
The Frenchman who headed a three-year probe into the 2009 loss of an Air France jet in the Atlantic said the data published so far appeared insufficient for any conclusion.
Relatives of the victims were giving DNA samples at a hotel near Cairo airport on Tuesday to help identify the body parts, their grief mixed with frustration.
Amjad Haqi, an Iraqi man whose mother Najla was flying back from medical treatment in France, said the families were being kept in the dark and had not been formally told that any body parts had been recovered.