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Search Continues For EgyptAir Flight That Went Missing Over Mediterranean Sea

By Camila Domonoske | NPR
Thursday, May 19, 2016

Updated 5:40 p.m. ET

EgyptAir's Flight MS 804 disappeared during a flight from Paris to Cairo early Thursday morning with 66 people onboard.

At one point it was reported that debris from the plane was found near the island of Karpathos. That finding has been retracted by EgyptAir Vice Chairman Ahmed Adel. "We stand corrected," he told CNN. The wreckage is "not our aircraft."

The Associated Press reports that "as night fell, the searchers had yet to find any confirmed debris."

The cause of the incident has not yet been determined.

Here's what we know about what happened:

  • Flight MS 804, an Airbus A320, departed from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris shortly after 5 p.m. ET (11 p.m. in Paris).
  • There were 66 passengers aboard — including one child and two infants — three security personnel and seven crew members, EgyptAir says. Of those people, 30 were Egyptian, 15 French and the remainder a variety of nationalities. No Americans were said to be onboard.
  • At 7:48 p.m. ET (1:48 a.m. in Cairo), Greek air traffic controllers were in touch with the plane; no problems were reported. Greek aviation officials say that was the last Greek contact with the plane; a later attempt to talk to the crew was unsuccessful.
  • Egyptian officials say Egypt's last air traffic control contact with the plane was at 8:30 p.m. ET (2:30 a.m. in Cairo).
  • At approximately 8:45 p.m. ET (2:45 a.m. in Cairo) the plane vanished from radar. Egypt then attempted to reconnect with the plane but had no response.
  • At the time of its disappearance, the flight was 37,000 feet over the Mediterranean, the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority says. It was traveling through Egyptian airspace, shortly after passing out of Greek skies.
  • Weather conditions were clear at the time of the plane's disappearance, Reuters reports.
  • Early reports of a distress signal were later identified as erroneous. EgyptAir said an automated distress signal was received by the Egyptian armed forces about two hours after the plane's disappearance, but in a Facebook post the Egyptian armed forces said that report was incorrect and that no signal had been received. Egypt's civilian air minister also confirmed there had been no distress signal.
  • Hours later, Greek authorities said they found wreckage of the plane near Karpathos Island, but those reports have since been walked back.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi released a statement saying the country will continue to search for debris and investigate the cause of the disappearance. The statement read, in part:

"The President gave directives to all relevant state authorities including the ministry of civil aviation and the armed forces' search and rescue center, the navy and air force, to intensify search operations for the Egyptian aircraft and to take all measures necessary to locate the debris of the plane in collaboration and coordination with friendly countries."

"Officials have been trying to avoid speculating about what happened," NPR's Peter Kenyon reports. "Nothing has been ruled out as far as the cause."

The Paris prosecutor's office announced it has opened an investigation into the flight's disappearance, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

Egypt, Greece, France, England, Cyprus and Italy all worked to search for the plane after it disappeared from radar, according to Egypt's military spokesman. A U.S. Navy patrol aircraft has also joined the search, the Navy says.

Egyptian authorities say search teams are continuing to work.

Earlier in the day, families of the victims had been gathering at the Cairo airport to await news of their loved ones, NPR's Emily Harris reports.

"My Egyptian colleague here spoke to one woman very briefly this morning who was coming out of an EgyptAir office with no information, talking about her daughter and wiping away tears," Emily told Morning Edition by phone from the airport.

'We're Not Ruling Out Any Hypothesis'

Egypt's civil aviation minister emphasized how little was known about the cause of the plane's disappearance in a press conference on Thursday.

"All we know is that a plane disappeared. We're not ruling out any hypothesis," Sherif Fathy said. He said a terrorist attack seems like a higher possibility than a technical issue but that both were being considered as potential explanations.

Greece's civil aviation department head Kostas Litserakis said air traffic controllers spoke to the pilot of MS 804 over the island of Kea, in what is believed to have been the last communication with the plane.

"The pilot did not mention any problems," Litserakis said, according to Reuters.

Radar contact with the plane was lost shortly after it transitioned from Greek airspace into Egyptian airspace, the Greek authorities say.

The missing plane is an Airbus A320. NPR's Russell Lewis tells our Newscast unit that the model has a very good safety record.

Egypt's National Security Council met to discuss the disappearance.

In March, an EgyptAir flight was hijacked and made to fly to Cyprus by a man who was later described as "psychologically unstable." He remains in custody in Cyprus.

About Thursday's missing plane, The Associated Press reports:

"The incident renewed security concerns months after a Russian passenger plane was blown out of the sky over the Sinai Peninsula. The Russian plane crashed in Sinai on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people onboard. Moscow said it was brought down by an explosive device, and a local branch of the extremist Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for planting it."

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