Cairo: A massive search was on Friday underway for the wreckage of an EgyptAir plane en route from Paris to Cairo that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea with 66 people on board, with authorities saying the incident was likely a terror attack.
The search for EgyptAir Flight 804 was ongoing after reports that the plane's wreckage had been found turned out to be false, prompting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to demand an 'intensified search'.
There were no signs of survivors after the Airbus A320 'swerved and then plunged' into the Mediterranean. The plane, on its fifth journey of the day, was travelling at 37,000 feet when it disappeared from radar. It had made a stop in Tunisia before flying to Paris. The Egyptian navy, air force and army are searching the sea to the north of Egypt's coast, with French, Greek, British and US support.
The plane made 'sudden swerves' before dropping off radar over the Mediterranean, Greek defence minister Panos Kammenos said. It made a 90-degree turn left, and then dropped from 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet before swerving 360 degrees right. The plane was carrying 56 passengers and 10 crew: two cockpit crew, five cabin crew and three security personnel.
EgyptAir said two babies and one child were on board. Among the passengers were 30 Egyptians, 15 French, two Iraqis, and one person each from the UK, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada. The airline said captain Mohamed Said Shoukair had 6,275 flying hours, including 2,101 on the A320; while the copilot, Mohamed Mamdouh Ahmed, had 2,766. The plane was manufactured in 2003.
EgyptAir initially said that Egyptian Foreign Ministry has "confirmed finding the wreckage" but later withdrew the claim. EgyptAir's Vice Chairman Ahmed Adel told CNN that when searchers got close to debris found in the Mediterranean Sea they realised it did not come from the missing airliner.
"We stand corrected on finding the wreckage because what we identified is not a part of our plane. So the search and rescue is still going on," Adel said. He added that maintenance checks on the plane had been done on time and "no snags were reported".
In a statement issued by Sisi's office, he also ordered an investigative committee formed by the civil aviation ministry to immediately start probing the causes of the plane's disappearance. He ordered the civil aviation ministry, the army's search and rescue centre, the navy, and air force to take all necessary measures to locate debris from the jet.
Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathi said technical failures and terror each are possible explanations. "But if you analyse this situation properly, the possibility of having a different action aboard, of having a terror attack, is higher than having a technical problem," Fathi said.
The tragedy raised fears of a repeat of the bombing of a Russian passenger jet by the Islamic State over Egypt last October that killed all 224 people on board.