Human remains and airline debris spotted in hunt for Egyptair plane

Human remains, luggage and airline debris have been found in the hunt for the Egyptair passenger jet that crashed into the eastern Mediterranean Sea while carrying 66 people, authorities said Friday.

Wreckage and personal belongings were found by Egyptian army teams around 290 kilometres north of the coastal city of Alexandria, the Egyptian military said.

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, whose country is supporting Egypt's search and recovery efforts, said he had been informed by Egyptian authorities that a body part was found, along with a suitcase and one or two airline seats, ERT television reported.

The Airbus A320 vanished early Thursday shortly after leaving Greek airspace while en route from Paris to Cairo.

The European Space Agency said a satellite spotted a possible 2-kilometre-long oil slick about 40 kilometres south-east of the last-known location of the plane. It took an image of the area on Thursday.

The two black boxes from Egyptair Flight MS804 have yet to be discovered, and the cause of the crash is unknown.

Three French aviation accident investigators and a technical expert from Toulouse-based Airbus arrived in Cairo to join the Egypt-led investigation.

"The participation of the French investigators in the probe is because 15 of the 56 passengers who were on board were French citizens and France is the headquarters of the plane manufacturer," an official at Cairo airport said on condition of anonymity.

The French investigators met with Ayman al-Moqadem, who is heading the Egyptian government's inquiry into the crash, Egyptian state television reported without details.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi on Friday offered "deep condolences" to the victims' family members, adding that the investigation was ongoing to determine the "causes of the regrettable accident." Most of the passengers on the flight were Egyptian.

Senior Egyptair officials met with families of the victims to inform them about the latest developments and answer their inquiries, according to the national carrier.

Ships and planes from France, Greece and Egypt have been scouring the area where the airliner is thought to have come down, about 280 kilometres from the Egyptian mainland.

Search operations could be complicated by heavy rainfall and strong winds moving into the eastern Mediterranean on Friday, Greece's weather service said.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras vowed to cooperate closely with Egypt to find the plane. He offered condolences and support to al-Sissi during a phone call, Tsipras' office said in a statement.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also pledged his country's support in a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukry, according to the State Department.

Multiple reports of debris in the hours after the apparent crash were found not to have been from the passenger jet, which was carrying 56 passengers, seven crew members and three security officers.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told the France2 broadcaster that there were "absolutely no clues" to indicate the reason for the plane's disappearance, adding that he would meet with victims' families this weekend in Paris.

The pilots did not make contact when they left Greek airspace as is customary, Egypt's aviation authority said. The jet was flying at a height of 37,000 feet (11,300 metres) when it disappeared about 45 minutes before its expected landing in Cairo.

Before disappearing from radar, data indicated that plane swerved sharply and then began to make a steep descent, the Greek defence minister said Thursday.

The likelihood that it was the victim of a terrorist attack was "far higher than the likelihood that the plane developed a technical failure," Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy said.

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

In March, an Egyptian 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: Fri, 20/05/2016 - 16:45

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