The crash of an EgyptAir flight en route to Cairo from Paris was more likely caused by a terrorist attack than by a technical failure, Egypt’s aviation minister says.
Minister Sherif Fathy discussed the crash even as a search operation continued in the Mediterranean for wreckage from the plane, which had 66 people aboard when it disappeared from radar Thursday, moments after it entered Egyptian airspace on the four-hour flight from France.
Initial reports from Greece say possible debris may have been spotted from the air. The United States is aiding in the search and recovery effort from the air, providing a P-3 Orion long-range aircraft.
“We must ensure that we know everything on the causes of what happened. No hypothesis is ruled out or favored,” President Francois Hollande told reporters in Paris as he confirmed the plane had crashed. He said the French government is working with Egyptian and Greek authorities on the search mission.
EgyptAir said it lost contact with the Airbus A320 plane at about 2:30 a.m., Cairo time, when the airliner was above 11,000 meters and just 16 kilometers inside Egyptian airspace.
Greek defense minister Panos Kamennos said the plane made sudden turns and a sharp descent before disappearing from the radar.
‘It turned 90 degrees left and then a 360-degree turn toward the right, dropping from 38,000 (11,582 meters) to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and then it was lost at about 10,000 feet (3,048 meters),” he said.
White House officials say U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed on the latest developments.
Hesitant to draw conclusions
At the Cairo airport, anxious relatives of those on board gathered at the airport, anxiously awaiting news about their loved ones.
Aviation experts are warning against speculation, reiterating that at this point too little is known to draw any conclusions.
“I will say that when an airplane disappears at 37,000 feet it’s a highly unusual event,” Scott Hamilton of Leeham Aviation Consultancy told VOA. “It either typically indicates a catastrophic failure, catastrophic emergency of some kind, or as we know from not too long ago, a bomb could go off … But you just have to be cautious and not jump to any conclusions at this point.”
Hamilton explained that search teams “would be ultimately looking for the airplane’s main records and black boxes.”
Fred Burton of the U.S.-based global intelligence company Stratfor tweeted: “Mechanical failure at cruising altitude is unlikely. Such an event typically occurs at takeoff or landing.”
Fifty-six passengers were on board, including one child and two infants, from France, Britain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada. No U.S. citizens were reported among the missing.
EgyptAir sent translators and doctors to the Cairo airport to meet with the passengers’ families.
The disappearance has renewed security concerns months after a Russian passenger plane was shot down over the Sinai Peninsula. The Russian plane crashed in Sinai on October 31, killing all 224 people on board. Moscow said it was brought down by an explosive device, and a local branch of the extremist Islamic State group claimed responsibility for planting it.
In 1999, EgyptAir Flight 1990 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near the island of Nantucket, off the coast of the U.S. state of Massachusetts, killing all 217 people aboard. U.S. investigators filed a final report that concluded its co-pilot switched off the autopilot and pointed the Boeing 767 downward. But Egyptian officials rejected the notion of suicide altogether, insisting some mechanical reason caused the crash.