Egypt’s chief prosecutor has ordered an “urgent investigation” into the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804, which went down in the Mediterranean on Thursday with 66 people on board en route from Paris to Cairo. The Paris prosecutor’s office has also opened an investigation.
Egypt’s Minister of Aviation, Sherif Fathy said earlier that terrorism could not be ruled out.
“I’m not excluding any theory,” said Fathy, as quoted by Fox News Insider. He added:
I’m also going to use the term “vanished” plane until we find the wreckage of the plane – if there is any wreckage – and until we know what happened for sure.
There are hypotheses and theories about what happened, but we want to be professional. We have to make sure we find out where the plane is and then we can start to do our job of determining the cause of this incident.
In a press conference later Thursday morning, Fathy conceded that “if you analyze the situation properly the possibility of having a terror attack is higher than the possibility of having a technical problem.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also said terrorism could not be ruled out, but it was also too early to rule out the possibility of a technical malfunction.
Fox News quotes Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos saying Flight 804 vanished from radar at around 2:45 A.M. Cairo time, while traveling at 37,000 feet, 175 miles north of the Egyptian coast.
“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,” said Kammenos.
The UK Daily Mail adds that Flight 804 was about ten miles into Egyptian airspace when contact was lost, with about 40 minutes left in the flight. The plane evidently came down somewhere near the Greek island of Karpathos.
The flight crew’s final communication with Greek air traffic control found them in a “good mood,” but when Greek controllers tried to contact them again about 20 minutes later for the handover to Cairo air traffic control, Flight 804 did not respond.
There was no distress call, which suggested a sudden, catastrophic event to the former chief of France’s aviation investigation bureau, Jean-Paul Troadec.
“A technical problem, a fire or a failed motor do not cause an instant accident and the team has time to react,” Troadec explained. “The team said nothing, they did not react, so it was very probably a brutal event and we can certainly think about an attack.”
The Daily Mail also reports that a merchant ship captain in the Mediterranean reported seeing a “flame in the sky.”
“If you have an aircraft experience an explosive decompression at cruise altitude, that points to it being a bomb,” Deakin University professor Greg Barton told Australia’s News.com.
Barton said the radar data available on Flight 804’s last moments are not consistent with the sort of high-speed stall a few other planes have experienced after flying into bad weather, but it was uncomfortably reminiscent of the plunge taken by a Russian Metrojet in the skies over Egypt after what the Islamic State has claimed was a bomb attack.
Barton also noted that the plane had made several recent stops at airports where a bomb could have been stashed on board. French officials pointed out that their country is still under a state of emergency after the Paris massacre in November, and said they would be “extremely surprised and concerned if there had been a security breach at Charles de Gaulle airport.”
According to the UK Mirror, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, has claimed that Flight 804 was brought down by terrorists, although he did not elaborate on his source of information for making this claim.
The UK Guardian reported at 9:00 AM Eastern time that a Greek frigate has discovered floating objects that may be debris from the plane.
According to Fox News, the missing plane was carrying “56 passengers, including one child and two babies, three security staff and seven crew members.” The manifest included “15 French passengers, 30 Egyptians, one Briton, two Iraqis, one Kuwaiti, one Saudi, one Sudanese, one Chadian, one Portuguese, one Algerian and one Canadian.”
Update, 1:45 PM EST: NBC News quotes a senior U.S. intelligence official who said infrared and multi-spectral imaging strongly indicated an explosion aboard the aircraft.
Another Administration official agreed this evidence was “not conclusive, but it’s suggestive.”
“Now, the question is, if there was an explosion, what caused it? Mechanical failure? Explosives? No idea at this point,” the second official said.