Egypt's military says EgyptAir debris found in Mediterranean
CAIRO — Egyptian naval ships scouring the Mediterranean Sea found passenger belongings and parts of the fuselage of an EgyptAir plane that crashed on Thursday, killing all 66 people on board, the country’s military spokesman said Friday.
The statement, which said the partial debris was discovered about 180 miles off the coast of the Egyptian city of Alexandria, follows earlier confusion in which authorities were forced to retract claims that the wreckage had been found late Thursday.
If confirmed, the location of the debris field would begin a major shift in the investigation, which has so far offered few tangible clues. A top aviation official in Egypt has said that possible terrorism appeared more likely than a catastrophic malfunction at 37,000 feet.
Experts would now have a target zone to try to peer below the waves in hopes of finding what remains of the fuselage and the flight recorders — which could offer critical information to unravel the mystery of why the Paris-to-Cairo flight suddenly dropped from the sky.
But the presumed crash site covers some of the deepest water in the Mediterranean: a seabed basin that is more than 10,000 feet below the surface in some places. The currents in the area are also strong, which could complicate efforts to pinpoint the submerged wreckage.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on France-2 television that there is “absolutely no indication” of the cause of the crash, amid speculation that a terrorist attack downed the airliner. No group has claimed responsibility for the fallen plane.
Three French civil aviation experts arrived in Cairo on Friday to assist with the investigation, Egypt’s flagship state-owned newspaper, Al-Ahram, reported.
“Egyptian plane flying from Paris falls,” Ahram’s front page headline read on Friday.
Late Thursday, EgyptAir vice-chairman Ahmed Adel corrected an earlier statement he gave to CNN confirming that search-and-rescue teams had found the wreckage of the aircraft, an Airbus A320. The Egyptian military then released footage of what it said were navy ships and aircraft scouring the Mediterranean for the wreckage.
What is known about the flight’s final minutes is a baffling array of facts.
The Airbus A320 swerved abruptly before plunging thousands of feet and losing contact with air traffic controllers over the Mediterranean.
The disappearance of Flight 804 was Egypt’s third major air incident since October, further eroding confidence in the safety of the country’s air travel and delivering another blow to government efforts to revive a struggling economy and tourism sector.
The Egyptian stock exchange plunged on Thursday — its last trading day of the week — recording more than $300 million in losses.
The Egyptian newspaper al-Wafd quoted an advisor to the country’s tourism minister as saying the government expected an industry downturn following the crash – “due to fears of traveling with EgyptAir,” the newspaper wrote.
U.S. officials cautioned that it was too early to determine what brought down the plane. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said there was not yet enough evidence to “draw any conclusions.”
“There certainly are reports that it broke apart in midair that I think are credible,” Schiff said, “but the cause of that is still not known. We haven’t seen claims of responsibility yet, and we don’t have the specific intelligence to draw any conclusions yet.”
The Airbus A320 left Paris at 11:09 p.m. local time Wednesday. As the plane left Greek airspace, the pilot “was in good spirits and thanked the controller in Greek,” according to Greece’s civil aviation agency.
But shortly after entering Egyptian airspace, the plane made “sudden swerves” and dropped from 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet, said Greece’s defense minister, Panos Kammenos.
The first turn was a sharp, 90-degree veer to the east after the plane passed over the Greek island of Karpathos, Kammenos told reporters in Athens. Then the plane made a full circular loop — a “360-degree turn,” Kammenos said.
Of the 66 people aboard, 56 were passengers, including two infants and one child. Seven were crew members, and three were security personnel. French authorities told reporters at a news conference that it is usual practice for EgyptAir to have three security officers on board.
No Americans were on the flight, according to the airline. Among those aboard, it said, were 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, two Iraqis, and one passenger each from Algeria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Chad, Kuwait, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Egypt faces a range of militant threats, including a group affiliated with the Islamic State that is active in the Sinai Peninsula. It claimed responsibility for bringing down a Russian charter flight in October with a possible bomb smuggled aboard, killing all 224 people on a flight from the Red Sea resort city of Sharm-el-Sheikh.
In March, an EgyptAir flight from Alexandria was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus. The suspect, 59-year-old Seif Eldin Mustafa, surrendered, and all hostages were released.
In November — just a month after the Russian plane attack in Sinai — the same Islamic State-linked faction posted a video purporting to show one of its members striking an Egyptian navy vessel with a shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile.
Defense experts believed the weapon was probably a Russian-built SA-18 Igla, which can hit aircraft flying at a maximum of 11,000 feet.
On Thursday, in an effort to contain the damage, EgyptAir officials stressed that their pilots were highly trained and their planes were in good condition.
The pilot of Flight 804 had more than 6,000 hours of flight experience, including more than 2,000 hours flying the same model as the vanished aircraft, said EgyptAir.
The co-pilot had nearly 3,000 flying hours.
The plane had been in service for more than 17 of the previous 24 hours before the crash, traveling from Asmara, Eritrea, to Cairo, then a round trip to Tunis, before heading to Paris.
Steven B. Wallace, former director of the Office of Accident Investigation and Prevention at the Federal Aviation Administration, called it “heavy utilization for that kind of aircraft.”
“But I don’t see that as a safety issue as long as the normal flight checks were made,” he added.
Cunningham reported from Istanbul. Sudarsan Raghavan in Cairo, James McAuley in Paris, and Brian Murphy, Yanan Wang, Missy Ryan, Sarah Kaplan and Ashley Halsey III in Washington contributed to this report.
This article was written by Heba Habib;Erin Cunningham from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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