Egyptair jet crashes with 66 on board; likely wreckage found

Probable remnants of an Egyptair plane that disappeared from radar while en route to Cairo were found late Thursday in the Mediterranean Sea, the airline said, as officials warned against jumping to conclusions about what could have caused the plane to crash.

"Egyptair received a letter from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry based on communication with the Greek authorities that says materials have been found floating on the water likely to be parts of the plane wreckage as well as two life jackets and plastic materials," airline spokesman Ihab Raslan told dpa.

"But there is no confirmation yet whether the found materials belong to the missing flight," he said, adding that coordination was under way with the Greek authorities to identify them.

Flight MS804 departed from Paris late Wednesday with 66 people on board, and went missing at 2:30 am (0030 GMT) while flying at a height of 37,000 feet (11,300 metres). It disappeared 45 minutes before its expected landing at Cairo airport, Egyptair said.

The pilots did not make contact when they left Greek airspace as is customary, the country's aviation authority said.

Late Thursday, Egyptair said it received word from Egyptian authorities that materials were found floating at sea that are likely parts of the plane wreckage, including two life jackets. They were found near the Greek island of Karpathos.

Greek military staff had earlier told state television that two large objects in waters found approximately 420 kilometres south-east of Karpathos were suspected to belong to the Airbus A320 that went down.

Even with reports of the plane's remnants, there was widespread speculation about what could have caused the sudden crash.

"Once we have the truth we can draw conclusions, whether this is an accident or another hypothesis that everyone has on their minds, perhaps a terrorist hypothesis," said French President Francois Hollande. "But at this stage we must put first our solidarity with the families and into the search for a cause."

In Cairo, Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy said it was unlikely that the plane went down due to technical problems. "The situation may indicate that the likelihood of a terrorist work is far higher than the likelihood that the plane developed a technical failure," he said.

"But we have to wait for investigations," he added.

Conflicting information about the flight's disappearance initially contributed to speculation about what happened. An Egyptair statement that military search teams received a distress call from the plane's emergency mechanisms almost two hours after its departure was denied by Egyptian aviation officials.

The jet was carrying 56 passengers, seven crew members and three security officers. Passengers included 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, two Iraqis and one each from Britain, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada, according Egyptair. Three children were on board.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault visited earlier in the day the hotel near Paris' Charles de Gaulles airport where passengers' families and loved ones were transported by French officials. They were offered medical and psychological services, as well as a trip to Cairo as soon as they saw fit.

At Cairo airport, families who had been waiting to meet passengers of the plane were brought to a private room and were being attended to by medical staff, officials said.

The first Egyptair plane from Paris to Cairo after the disappearance departed in the afternoon.

Egypt and France opened separate investigations into the accident, and Hollande and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi agreed to cooperate fully. France also sent two planes and a ship to help the search.

In Brussels, US Secretary of State John Kerry offered his condolences. US President Barack Obama directed US officials to offer support and assistance.

Egyptair said Mohammed Said Ali Shaqir was the plane's pilot, and said he had over 6,000 hours of flights logged, more than 2,000 of them on Airbus A320s. The co-pilot had 2,766 flight hours logged, the company said.

The plane was delivered to the operator in 2003, manufacturer Airbus said, adding that it had accumulated some 48,000 flight hours.

The crash comes in the wake of two other incidents involving Egyptian aviation.

In March, a man used a fake explosive belt made of mobile phone covers and cables to force an Egyptair flight to land in Cyprus.

In October 2015, a Russian passenger jet broke up in mid-air shortly after take-off from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. Russian authorities said that the incident was caused by a bomb. The Islamic State extremist group, which operates in Sinai, claimed responsibility and published a photograph of a soft drink can which it said had been filled with explosives and smuggled onto the flight.

Last update: Thu, 19/05/2016 - 22:19

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