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EgyptAir Flight 804: Wreckage found, airline official says

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Posted at 12:44 PM, May 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-19 13:36:46-04

Searchers scouring the heavily traveled waters of the Mediterranean Sea for EgyptAir Flight 804 on Thursday have found the plane’s wreckage, airline Vice Chairman Ahmed Adel told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

The debris was about 150 nautical miles north of the Egyptian coast, Adel said. He did not elaborate on the location or condition of the wreckage but said the search and rescue operation was “turning into a search and recovery” mission.

Earlier, a spokesman for Greece’s Hellenic National Defense General Staff had said crew aboard an Egyptian search aircraft had spotted two floating objects 210 nautical miles southeast of Crete. It’s unclear whether those objects are part of the wreckage described by Adel.

The Airbus A320 carrying 66 passengers and crew disappeared early Thursday over the Mediterranean Sea as it flew from Paris to Cairo.

Speculation has centered on the possibility of a terrorist attack.

“Planes today just don’t fall out of the sky,” CNN aviation analyst Miles O’Brien said.

Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathi said technical failures and terror are both possible explanations.

“But if you analyze 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.

EGYPTAIR posted the following statement to their Twitter account:

“EGPYTAIR resource stated that the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation has just received an official letter from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declaring the finding of wreckage of the missing aircraft No. MS 804 near Karpathos Island. EGYPTAIR sincerely conveys its deepest sorrow to the families and friends of the passengers onboard Flight MS804. Family members of passengers and crew have been already informed and we extend our deepest sympathies to those affected.The Egyptian Investigation Team in co-operation with the Greek counterpart are still searching for other remains of the missing plane.”

EARLIER STORY: 

EgyptAir Flight 804 vanished from radar on its way from Paris to Cairo on Thursday morning. Questions abound, including what happened to the 66 people on board.

Here’s what we know so far:

Before the flight

Prior to taking off from Paris, the Airbus A320 made stops in Eritrea and Tunis, data from flight-tracking websites show.

The flight plan

Flight 804 left Charles de Gaulle Airport at 11:09 p.m. Paris time Wednesday and was supposed to land in Cairo at 3:15 a.m. Thursday. (Paris and Cairo share the same time zone. All times listed below are for Paris/Cairo.)

The passengers

The 66 passengers included 30 Egyptians and 15 French, EgyptAir said.

Others were from Britain, Belgium, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.

Three children were among those on board, including two infants, EgyptAir Vice Chairman Capt. Ahmed Adel said.

Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathy said there were no known security issues with passengers on the plane, but said further checks are underway.

The disappearance

Greek air traffic controllers talked to the pilot when the plane was near the Greek island of Kea. Everything seemed fine until the plane, now over the eastern Mediterranean Sea, approached Egyptian airspace.

At about 2:27 a.m., Greek air traffic control tried to reach the pilots to hand off control from Greece to Egypt. But the pilots didn’t not respond; officials don’t know why.

Immediately after the plane entered Cairo airspace, the plane swerved 90 degrees to the left and then 360 degrees to the right.

It also descended from 37,000 feet to 10,000 feet “when we lost the signal,” Greek Defense Minister, Panos Kammenos told reporters.

The plane vanished while cruising — the safest part of the journey,” CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest said.

“Planes just do not fall out of the sky for no reason — particularly at 37,000 feet,” he said.

The pilots and plane

The captain had 6,275 flying hours, including 2,101 on the A320. The copilot had 2,766 flying hours.

The Airbus A320 was part of EgyptAir’s service since November 3, 2003, with about 48,000 flight hours.

Routine maintenance checks were done Wednesday in Cairo before it left for Paris, an airline official said.

The plane’s engines were made by U.S. company Pratt & Whitney, according to an American official. The National Transportation Safety Board is in contact with Pratt & Whitney, and ready to assist in the investigation if asked by Egyptian authorities.

The crash report

Though officials have not specified what happened, French President Francois Hollande said he was told the plane was lost and had crashed.

The weather

The weather was clear and calm when the plane crossed over the Mediterranean, CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said.

The investigation

The cause of EgyptAir 804’s disappearance is more likely to be terrorism than a technical issue, said Fathy, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister.

“I don’t want to go to speculation. I don’t want to go to assumptions like others,” Fathy said. “But if you analyze this situation properly, the possibility of having a different action aboard, of having a terror attack, is higher than having a technical problem.”

The early theory of U.S. government officials is terrorism, with the initial suspicion that the plane was taken down by a bomb, officials told CNN. They caution that their suspicion is not based on any concrete evidence but on the circumstances.

The chance of survival

If there are any survivors, there’s still a chance to save them, Javaheri said.

“The water temperatures in the eastern Mediterranean near Egypt are in the low 20s Celsius,” or mid- to low- 70s Fahrenheit, he said.

“Survival times in such waters range from two to seven hours for the elderly or individuals in poor health, while they range anywhere from two to 40 hours for healthier individuals.”

The search and rescue

The U.S. Navy is providing a P-3 Orion aircraft to help in the search effort, according to Lt. Col. David Westover of the U.S. European Command.

Britain has deployed a naval vessel, RFA Lyme Bay, and has offered a C-130 aircraft from RAF Akrotiri base on Cyprus, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told CNN.