EgyptAir flight crashes in Med Sea with 66 on board

EgyptAir flight crashes in Med Sea with 66 on board

CAIRO - Associated Press
EgyptAir flight crashes in Med Sea with 66 on board

AFP photo

An EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo with 66 passengers and crew on board crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek island of Crete early May 19, Egyptian and Greek officials said, while Egypt’s aviation minister said the crash was more likely caused by a terror attack than technical problems.

EgyptAir said the Airbus A320 vanished 16 kilometers after it entered Egyptian airspace, around 280 kilometers off Egypt’s coastline north of the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. Their account fits closely with an account from Konstantinos Lintzerakos, director of Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority.

Egyptian military aircraft and navy ships were taking part in a search operation off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast to locate the debris of the plane, which was carrying 56 passengers, including one child and two babies, and 10 crew members. 

Signs of possible wreckage were found later in the day off the Greek island of Crete in a search for the missing flight in the Mediterranean, a Greek military spokesman told AFP.

“There have been finds southeast of Crete, inside the Cairo flight information area,” General Staff spokesman Vassilis Beletsiotis said, adding that an Egyptian C-130 plane had spotted the floating objects, and ships would be sent to investigate.

In Cairo, Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi told a news conference that he did not want to prematurely draw conclusions, but that indications suggest a terror attack as more likely cause of the crash.

Answering a reporter’s question on whether a technical failure was behind the crash, Fathi said: “On the contrary ... if you thoroughly analyze the situation, the possibility of having a different action or a terror attack, is higher than the possibility of having a technical failure.”

But he cautioned that the truth would not be known before the investigation is concluded. 

Earlier, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also said a terror attack could not be ruled out. “We cannot rule anything out,” Ismail told reporters at Cairo airport.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said EgyptAir flight 804 made abrupt turns and suddenly lost altitude just before vanishing from radar at around 2:45 a.m. Egyptian time.

Kammenos said the aircraft was 10-15 miles inside the Egyptian Flight Information Region (FIR) and at an altitude of 37,000 feet. “It turned 90 degrees left and then a 360 degree turn toward the right, dropping from 38,000 to 15,000 feet and then it was lost at about 10,000 feet,” he said.

EgyptAir said the Egyptian military had received an emergency signal from the aircraft, an apparent reference to an Emergency Locator Transmitter, a battery powered device designed to automatically give out a signal in the event of a sudden loss of altitude or impact.

The Egyptian military denied it had received a distress call and Egypt’s state-run daily Al-Ahram quoted an unidentified airport official as saying the pilot did not send one.

The absence of a distress call suggests that whatever sent the aircraft plummeting into the Mediterranean was both sudden and brief.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault offered to send military planes and boats to join the Egyptian search for wreckage.

“We are at the disposition of the Egyptian authorities with our military capacities, with our planes, our boats to help in the search for this plane,” he said. He spoke after French President François Hollande held an emergency meeting at the Élysée Palace.

Exploring the possibility of a terror attack, Egyptian security officials said they were running background checks on the passengers to see if any of them had links to extremists. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

In Paris, the city’s prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the incident. “No hypothesis is favored or ruled out at this stage,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. Egypt’s chief prosecutor, Nabil Sadeq, followed suit, ordering an “urgent” investigation into the crash.

Greece also joined the search and rescue operation, officials at the Hellenic National Defense General Staff said.