EgyptAir plane crashes; terror attack possible
Cairo — An EgyptAir jetliner en route from Paris to Cairo with 66 people aboard veered wildly in flight and crashed in the Mediterranean Sea early Thursday, authorities said. Egyptian and Russian officials said it may have been brought down by terrorists.
There were no signs of survivors.
EgyptAir Flight 804, an Airbus A320 with 56 passengers and 10 crew members, went down about halfway between the Greek island of Crete and Egypt’s coastline, or around 175 miles offshore, after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport, authorities said.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said the plane spun all the way around and suddenly lost altitude just before vanishing from radar screens around 2:45 a.m. Cairo time.
He said it made a 90-degree left turn, then a full 360-degree turn to the right, plummeting from 38,000 to 15,000 feet. It disappeared at about 10,000 feet, he said. There were no reports of stormy weather at the time.
Egyptian and Greek authorities in ships and planes searched the suspected crash area throughout the day for traces of the airliner or its victims, with more help on the way from the U.S., Britain and France.
But as night fell, they had yet to find any confirmed debris, at one point dismissing a reported sighting of life vests and other floating material.
Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi cautioned that the disaster was still under investigation but said the possibility it was a terror attack “is higher than the possibility of having a technical failure.”
Alexander Bortnikov, chief of Russia’s top domestic security agency, went further, saying: “In all likelihood it was a terror attack.”
There was no immediate claim from militants that they had downed the plane.
If it was terrorism, it would be the second deadly attack involving Egypt’s aviation industry in seven months.
Last October, a Russian passenger plane that took off from an Egyptian Red Sea resort crashed in the Sinai, killing all 224 people aboard. Russia said it was brought down by a bomb, and a local branch of the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Thursday’s disaster also raises questions about security at De Gaulle Airport, at a time when Western Europe has been on high alert over the deadly Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and at the Brussels airport and subway over the past six months.
In the U.S., the FBI offered its assistance in the investigation. FBI Director James Comey said the bureau has no evidence yet that the plane was brought down intentionally.
Families of passengers gathered at the Cairo airport, desperate for any news. Authorities brought doctors to the scene after several distressed family members collapsed.
“They don’t have any information,” lamented Mohamed Ramez, whose in-laws were on the plane. “But obviously there is little hope.”
Nearly 4,000 A320s are in use around the world.