Cairo: An EgyptAir plane en route from Paris to Cairo carrying 66 people crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday after plunging 22,000 feet and swerving sharply with Egypt saying the possibility of a terror attack or a technical error could not be ruled out.
Families of passengers who were flying in an EgyptAir plane that vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo react as they wait outside a services hall at Cairo airport. Pic/AFP
"I will use the words 'the missing plane' until we find the debris or be certain about what happened," Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi said in a press conference. "We don't deny the possibility of a terror attack or a technical error," he said.
EgyptAir Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo disappeared from radar with 66 people on board, the airline said. French President Francois Hollande confirmed that the EgyptAir Airbus A320 had "crashed".
"We must ensure that we know everything on the causes of what happened. No hypothesis is ruled out or favoured," he said in a televised address. "Whether it was an accident or another hypothesis that everyone has on their mind -- a terrorist hypothesis... at
this stage we must focus on our solidarity with the families and the search for the causes of the catastrophe," Hollande said.
Paris prosecutor's office said its accident department had opened an investigation into the incident. Greece's Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said the plane fell 22,000 feet and swerved sharply in Egyptian airspace before it disappeared from radar screens.
"The plane carried out a 90-degree turn to the left and a 360-degree turn to the right, falling from 37,000 to 15,000 feet and the signal was lost at around 10,000 feet," Kammenos told a news conference.
"It appears the plane is lost. There are no clear results (from the search) so far," he said. However, Greek Aviation officials said earlier that air traffic controllers had spoken to the pilot a few minutes earlier and everything had appeared normal.
The plane was carrying 56 passengers -- including three children -- seven crew members and three security personnel. Apart from 30 Egyptians, the plane was carrying 15 French passengers, two Iraqis and one each from Britain, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.
Egypt and Greece both had both dispatched aircraft and naval vessels on a search mission and they were expected to be joined by French teams.
The plane is believed to have been lost some 130 nautical miles from the island of Karpathos, between Crete and Rhodes. The plane lost contact with radar after it entered Egyptian airspace, around 280 kilometres off the country's coastline north of the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. The aviation officials later said the plane crashed and that a search for debris was now underway.
The "possibility that the plane crashed has been confirmed," the officials said.
The Flight left Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris at 23:09 local time yesterday and was scheduled to arrive in the Egyptian capital soon after 03:15 local time on Friday.
An EgyptAir statement was quoted by the local media as saying that the Egyptian army's rescue and search had received a distress call from the plane at 04:26 local time -- around two hours after the flight disappeared. However, Egypt's military subsequently said that no such signal had been received.
Both France and Egypt have come under attack by ISIS terror group in the past year. Earlier, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said it was too early to say whether a technical problem or a terror attack caused the plane to crash. "We cannot rule anything out," he told reporters at Cairo airport.
Egyptian military search and rescue teams were combing the area to locate the debris of the plane. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has also offered to send military planes and boats to join the Egyptian search for wreckage. Hollande also held an emergency meeting and spoke with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on the phone. They agreed "to closely cooperate to establish as soon as possible the circumstances" surrounding the incident.
"I cannot deny that there is a great possibility that the plane could be crashed but until we find any wreckage, I will use missing," Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Fathi said. When asked if a previous technical error in the plane in 2013 could be a reason for the crash, the Minister said, "we can't speak about a past error (which was already fixed years ago) as being a reason for the plane crash".
"Some say that there is a technical error and this is not possible. No one flies with a plane that has a technical error. Any plane goes under many check before it flies," Fathi said.
EgyptAir was hosting the passengers' families near to Cairo Airport and has provided doctors, translators and all the necessary services to them. In March, another EgyptAir flight from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to divert to Cyprus, where the hijacker demanded to see his former wife. He had claimed he was wearing an explosive vest, which turned out to be fake, and surrendered within hours after freeing the passengers and crew.
In October, the Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for bombing a Russian airliner flying home holidaymakers from the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board. The group said it had smuggled a bomb concealed in a soda can on board the plane at Sharm El-Sheikh airport.