Pilot: It's too early to link EgyptAir flight to terror

Story highlights

  • Les Abend: There are too many questions about why EgyptAir flight disappeared to jump to terror conclusion
  • Abend: All theories are on the table until the investigation produces evidence that leads in a specific direction.

Les Abend is a Boeing 777 captain for a major airline with 31 years of flying experience. He is a CNN aviation analyst and senior contributor to Flying magazine. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Once again we find ourselves in the midst of an airplane tragedy that appears to have originated from cruise altitude, the most benign and statistically safest phase of any flight. Simply stated, another airplane just fell out of the sky. But why?

My gut reaction as a veteran airline pilot is that a sudden catastrophic event occurred to bring down EgyptAir Flight 804 Thursday morning. Assuming the flight path information from Greek air traffic control data is correct, the Airbus A-320 executed some very erratic maneuvers, including a rapid 90-degree turn and a complete 360-degree turn.
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    These are not characteristic of an airliner. As a matter of fact, Airbus designs its airliners so pilots cannot exceed certain parameters in both "pitch" and "bank." As an example, the airplane won't go beyond a 35-degree bank turn. This makes these drastic turns all the more curious.
    What's more, the airplane experienced a very rapid descent in a very short time. But was this erratic data information generated from onboard signals, i.e., the transponder-- which reports a plane's altitude and speed to ground radar-- or was it generated from air traffic control radar returns of an airplane breaking up in flight? At this time, it is too early in the investigation to gauge the accuracy of the information.
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    The million dollar question is: What exactly caused the airplane to fall out of the sky? It seems the answer in vogue is to blame an explosive device and thus terrorism. But at this point, that would be pure speculation, conjecture. A terrorist act involving a bomb has to be proven by the evidence, and at the moment we have no pieces of the aircraft to corroborate this story.
    It is possible that there was a mechanical cause, or an event could have occurred that caused the pilots to lose control of the airplane. Perhaps the pilots became distracted while attempting to troubleshoot a problem, allowing the airplane to enter an aerodynamic stall from which they were unable to recover.
    Perhaps an insidious and barely noticeable loss of pressurization due to a leak in the cabin caused the crew to become hypoxic. A hypoxic person develops a sense of euphoria, oftentimes cannot perform even simple arithmetic problems, and may be unable to appropriately manipulate the controls of the aircraft.
    Bottom line: All theories are on the table until the investigation produces evidence that leads in a specific direction. It's human nature to draw parallels with similar events, but in an accident investigation, it's important to override that impulse with an open mind.