US says EgyptAir imagery shows no signs of blast

Families of passengers who were flying on board an EgyptAir plane that vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo react as they wait outside a services hall at Cairo international airport on May 19, 2016. (AFP)

A US review of satellite imagery so far has not produced any signs of an explosion aboard the EgyptAir flight that crashed on Thursday en route from Paris to Cairo, carryig 66 people on board, officials from multiple US agencies told Reuters.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the conclusion was the result of a preliminary examination of imagery and cautioned against media reports suggesting the United States believed a bomb was responsible for the crash.

The United States has not ruled out any possible causes for the crash, including mechanical failure, terrorism or a deliberate act by the pilot or crew, they said.

Meanwhile, EgyptAir said Thursday that wreckage from its passenger plane that crashed into the Mediterranean early in the day has been found.

“The Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation has just received an official letter from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that confirms the finding of wreckage of the missing aircraft No. MS 804,” it said in English on its Twitter account.

It added: “The Egyptian Investigation Team in co-operation with the Greek counterpart are still searching for other remains of the missing plane.”

On Thursday evening, EgyptAir also offered its condolences to the families of the victims.

However, Greek defense sources said the material found so far floating in the Mediterranean in its search for the missing EgyptAir airliner is not blue and white.

Earlier, Egypt’s envoy to France said Greek authorities had informed his counterpart in Athens that they had found debris corresponding to EgyptAir’s blue and white colors.

“We have not located such objects,” a spokesman for the Greek military said.

Earlier, Greek defense sources said objects found floating about 230 miles south of the island of Crete included what appeared to be plastic colored red and white, and lifejackets.

Sisi demands intensified search

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also demanded authorities “intensify the search” for EgyptAir’s wreckage.

“The president has issued instructions to all concerned state bodies, including the ministry of civil aviation... naval and air forces to intensify the search for the Egyptian plane and to take all necessary measures to find the plane debris,” said the statement.

Before Sisi’s orders, Reuters reported two Greek government sources as saying on Thursday that Athens will scale back search and rescue assets deployed to find the missing airliner after objects thought to be from the aircraft were found in waters under Egyptian jurisdiction.

Greece had deployed a frigate and air assets to the area south of the island of Karpathos. A transport aircraft would remain in the area.

Greek authorities earlier reported the aircraft took a sharp 90 degree turn left, and then spun 360 degrees in the opposite direction as it plunged from cruising altitude of 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet before disappearing off radars.

As search continues for the missing plane for Flight MS804,  speculation mounted that the jet was downed by a terrorist attack.

The head of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, Alexander Bortnikov said he thought that the jet had been downed by terrorists.

“Apparently, it is a terrorist attack,” Bortnikov was cited as saying by Russia’s TASS news agency.

Egyptian aviation minister Sherif Fathy also weighed in, saying at a press conference that “possibility of [the doomed EgyptAir flight] having a terror attack is higher than the possibility of having a technical [problem]," he said.

Greek authorities are combing their waters in an attempt to locate aircraft wreckage. Military spokesman Vassilis Beletsiotis said that “there have been finds southeast of Crete, inside the Cairo flight information area.” He added that an Egyptian C-130 plane had spotted the floating objects, and ships would be sent to investigate.

The EgyptAir flight 804 from Paris to Cairo with 56 passengers and 10 crew on board went missing in the Mediterranean Sea early Thursday morning. The airline said Flight 804 from Paris to Cairo vanished 2:45 a.m. Egypt time.

The plane was an Airbus A320 and that its last known position was above the Mediterranean Sea, reportedly flying at a height of 37,000 ft. It was carrying 56 passengers and 10 crew members, according to Egypt's civil aviation, including one child and two babies.

Conditions were clear and calm when the plane crossed over the Mediterranean Sea.

Airline authorities said 30 Egyptians, 15 French citizens, two Iraqis, one Brit, one Belgian, one Sudanese, one Chadian, one Portuguese, one Algerian, one Canadian, one Saudi and one Kuwaiti are on board.

Infographic: Turbulent EgyptAir history

Infographic: Turbulent EgyptAir history

Infographic: Turbulent EgyptAir history

The Egyptian army denied it detected any "distress messages" from an EgyptAir flight that vanished over the Mediterranean on Thursday, in a statement posted on its spokesman's Facebook page.

EgyptAir had earlier said it was informed by the military that it detected a "distress message" from the Airbus A320 which was en route from Paris to Cairo when it disappeared from radar screens.

Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry also dubbed the news of a distress call as “incorrect.”

The commanding pilot of the plane reportedly had 6,000 flight hours. According to Egyptian El Watan News website, the pilot flying the plane is Mohamed Ali Shqeir.

Greek air traffic controllers spoke to the pilot over the island of Kea, in what was thought to be the last broadcast from the aircraft.

"The pilot did not mention any problems," Kostas Litzerakis, head of Greece's civil aviation department told Reuters news agency.

As of midday on Thursday, EgyptAir said the cause of flight MS804's disappearance is still unknown.

“The plane might have been lost communications might either be for two reasons; either because of technical difficulties or because a terrorist high jacking took place,” retired pilot Zuhair Gharaiba told Al Arabiya from Amman.

“Planes disappearing can happen because of multiple causes, be it human error, hijacking, etc. It can’t be due to weather conditions as reports said the plane was flying in clear skies at the time of its disappearance.”

EgyptAir Flight 804 flight tracker

EgyptAir Flight 804 flight tracker

‘Sharing the anguish’

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault "expressed condolences over the plane incident involving the EgyptAir airplane that went down, and Shoukry in turn expressed condolences for the French casualties who were on board the plane," the Egyptian foreign ministry said.

The French government held an emergency meeting at 06:30 GMT to discuss the plane’s disappearance, the French President Francois Hollande's office said. He said no hypothesis has been ruled out concerning disappeared plane.

“The President talked to Egyptian President Sisi about the disappearance of the EgyptAir flight between Paris and Cairo. They agreed to cooperate closely to establish the circumstances of the disappearance as soon as possible,” a statement from the Elysee Palace said.

“The President shares the anguish of the families affected by this tragedy.”

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board also stated that it will assist Egypt "as necessary" in its investigation into the disappearance of the flight, a spokesman said.

The Boeing 737 normally travels the 1,993-mile distance from Paris to Cairo in four hours and 20 minutes and arrives in Cairo at 3:05 a.m. Thursday’s MS804 flight left Paris about 15 minutes late, according to departure records.

In March, a domestic EgyptAir flight was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus.

On October 31 last year, Russia-bound Metrojet Flight 9268, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia, crashed in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt , killing all 224 people on board.

Unidentified relatives and friends of passengers who were flying in an EgyptAir plane wait outside the Egyptair in-flight service building in Cairo. (Reuters)

Unidentified relatives and friends of passengers who were flying in an EgyptAir plane wait outside the Egyptair in-flight service building in Cairo. (Reuters)

EgyptAir has provided free contact numbers for loved ones: 080077770000 from any landline in Egypt and + 202 25989320 outside Egypt or any mobile in Egypt.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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