Egypt asserts EgyptAir debris not found yet

French President Francois Hollande confirmed in a speech Thursday morning that EgyptAir flight MS804 crashed in the early hours, while Egyptian authorities were more reluctant to draw conclusions until the missing plane is located and debris reportedly found in the Mediterranean has been officially identified.

The Airbus A320, en route from Paris to Cairo, disappeared from the radar in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The plane departed from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport just after 11 pm Paris local time, and lost contact around 10 miles into Egyptian airspace, 175 miles north of the Egyptian coast.

The last contact between the pilot and Greek traffic controllers was at 2:84 am, as the plane exited Greek airspace and the pilot transfered communications to Egyptian controllers, the Guardian reported. The pilot was in good spirits and reportedly thanked the Greek controller.

Athens air traffic control attempted to contact the aircraft at 3:27 am to send information concerning the switch of communications, according to the Guardian, but received no response despite repeated attempts.

The aircraft signal was completely lost by 3:40 am. Five minutes later, search and rescue missions were initiated, the Guardian added.

Fifty-six passengers and 10 crew members were on board, including two toddlers and a child, of the following nationalities: 30 Egyptians, 15 French, two Iraqis, and one passenger from the UK, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.

The Egyptian military coordinated with Greek authorities to deploy reconnaissance air and naval forces in the search operation.

French response

Despite hesitation from Egyptian authorities to confirm a crash until the plane is located, French President Francois Hollande said the plane had crashed in a speech on Thursday morning.

“We cannot exclude any hypothesis. When we have the truth, we can draw conclusions, be it an accident or another hypothesis,” Hollande added, announcing an official investigation into the crash in cooperation with Egypt and Greece.

Greek response

Later Thursday afternoon, Greek state television confirmed debris from the missing plane was found 230 nautical miles west of the island of Crete. Officials expressed caution that the debris has not yet been properly identified.

Greek media asserted the debris could be life jackets, citing identification reports from an Egyptian C-295 aircraft.

Greek sources told the Guardian the possibility of an explosion or suicide bomber is very real.

Egyptian response

Early Thursday evening, EgyptAir denied reports that debris from the missing plane had been found. On its Twitter account, EgyptAir said that it contacted the relevant authorities and was not able to confirm the news.

The official spokesperson for the Egyptian military also denied reports by EgyptAir that the Armed Forces had received a signal from the plane. An EgyptAir official said earlier that an emergency transmitter sent a signal at 4:26 am Cairo time, two hours after the last radar contact, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper.

Egyptian Minister of Civil Aviation Sherif Fathy said news that the Armed Forces received a signal is the result of a “misconception” by a rescue team member.

“It is a very difficult day today, not just for us in the Civil Aviation Ministry, but for everyone in Egypt,” Fathy said in a press conference at 1:30 pm. He neither confirmed nor denied links to a terrorist plot, saying, “Allow me to use the term ‘missing plane’ until we find its remnants.” The aircraft disappeared at 2:40 am and authorities were sure it was missing at 2:50 am, the minister added.

“We don’t know why French authorities confirmed the aircraft crashed. For usm it is missing until its remnants are found,” Fathy said.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail told reporters that no possible reasons for the missing EgyptAir flight should be ruled out, including terrorism, according to the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

“We cannot say for sure that terrorism is the reason, and we cannot deny it. We should wait until we collect all the necessary information and investigation committees finish their work,” he said.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry exchanged condolences with France over what was described as the “fall” of the missing EgyptAir plane before confirmation by Egyptian authorities that the plane crashed, Reuters reported.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called an emergency meeting with Egypt’s National Security Council to discuss developments.

The prosecutor general ordered an official investigation into the missing aircraft, stating it would be led by State Security prosecution, Sky News Arabia reported.

Difficult times for EgyptAir

In March, EgyptAir flight 181, en route from Alexandria to Cairo, was forced to land in Cyprus after a passenger hijacked the plane, keeping a number of hostages on board for several hours. The stand off was eventually resolved and all passengers and crew were released without harm.

Earlier this week EgyptAir announced a 50 percent discount on tickets until August in an attempt to boost sales as Egyptian tourism continues to decline. The discounts were announced a day after the airline resumed normal service following a four-day strike by pilots over long working days of up to 14 hours.

Source: Mada Masr