(CNN) — Airbus has detected signals from the Mediterranean Sea where EgyptAir Flight 804 crashed last week, Egypt’s state-run Al Ahram news agency reported Thursday.
The signals were emitted by the plane’s emergency locator transmitter, a device that can manually or automatically activate at impact and will usually send a distress signal.
Having the signals dramatically decreases the search area to a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) radius.
Meanwhile, a French vessel will begin an underwater search for the wreckage “in the coming days,” according to the BEA, France’s accident investigation agency.
That French naval vessel, which is equipped with special detection equipment to locate the signals of the flight recorders, departed Tuesday from Porto Vecchio. The vessel, La Place, is headed toward the Egyptian coast in a race to locate the black boxes.
Egyptian and French submersibles have been working in the area in an attempt to find the flight data and cockpit voice recorders before their transponder batteries expire.
The French may decide to send a second ship, one equipped with an underwater exploration robot and lifting mechanics that could work in the depth of the Mediterranean. Some of the search area has water as deep as 10,000 feet.
The French BEA will provide technical assistance to the Egyptian authorities, which lead the investigation as well as the underwater search operations.
Where the search is now
EgyptAir Flight 804 was at 37,000 feet when it lost contact above the Mediterranean early on May 19, shortly before the aircraft was scheduled to exit Greek airspace and enter Egyptian airspace. The plane had departed from Paris and headed toward Cairo.
So far, some debris from the plane — including life vests, personal belongings and parts of wreckage — has been recovered. Small fragments of human remains have also been found, and Egyptian officials are trying to identify and match them to passengers or crew members.
The search is ongoing for the critical parts of the plane, including the fuselage, flight data and cockpit voice recorders.
“The investigators are up against the clock,” said aviation analyst Justin Green. “If they don’t find the black boxes in the next 30 days, the job of finding them is going to be much harder because the black boxes may no longer be sending out a sonar ping, which will help them identify it.”
Signals from plane device?
The signals from the emergency locator transmitter, as reportedly identified by Airbus, are different from the pings emitted by the “black boxes.”
The plane has three emergency locator transmitters, one of which is in the tail, where the flight data recorders are.
It wasn’t clear where the emergency transmitting device had been located within the plane.
Al Ahram reported that Airbus sent the information to the Egyptian authorities, who then relayed the information to the search and rescue units.
Airbus would not comment when asked about the signals, saying: “We are supporting the parties in charge of the investigation and we can’t comment, nor do we contribute to any kind of speculation.”
The signals from emergency locator transmitters can be picked up by satellite. It is not immediately clear when Airbus received these signals, but they are more commonly identified a few hours after impact — not a few days later.