EgyptAir Flight 804

There is a marked difference in the official responses to the loss of EgyptAir Flight 804, and the Sinai Metrojet disaster six months prior, discussed in this post.

A half year ago, on October 31, 2015, Russia’s  Metrojet Flight 9268 disintegrated above Sinai. Hull losses of this airplane have been extremely rare, and the weather was fine. The laxity of ground controls at Sharm-el Sheikh Airport had already been noted by some, with a “buy your way through security” policy. The  permeation of Egyptian society by radical elements is significant, though not overwhelming. So  rude statistical thinking advocated immediate adoption of a terrorism-based theory.

But even though ISIL claimed responsibility almost immediately, Egyptian and Russian pronouncements exhibited negative bias toward the hypothesis of terrorism. For both Egypt and Russia, a solution of the question in that form would have negative economic, political, and social consequences. Egypt’s Prime Minister seems more accepting of the idea for Flight 804, though still with traces of political reluctance. Quoting Reuters,

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said it was too early to rule out any explanation for the crash, including an attack like the one blamed for bringing down a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last year.

The physical evidence in the current case is scanty. U.S. satellite imagery shows no evidence of explosion. This means only absence of

  • An infrared signature indicative of  fire.
  • Separation of a major structural component, such as an entire wing.

It does not rule out damage of the control systems by a small bomb. Cockpit invasion or pilot suicide are also possible, suggested by the swerving motions preceding complete loss of control.

Comparison of official reactions to the two disasters is noteworthy. Rude statistical thinking is a powerful tool in the evaluation of the extraordinary, but it is frequently  obstructed by custom or bias. Sometimes the obstruction is legal caution, which is proper. Sometimes it is political, which is not.

This is  an instance of a general human flaw, the belief-preference for the demonstrated threat over the highly plausible yet hypothetical one.



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