EgyptAir flight MS804 crashes in Mediterranean

MANILA, Philippines (12th UPDATE) – EgyptAir flight MS804, flying from Paris to Cairo, crashed into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, just minutes away from arrival, the airline said Thursday, May 19.

The EgyptAir flight, an Airbus A320 plane traveling from Paris to Cairo, disappeared from radar at an altitude of 37,000, just as it entered Egyptian airspace, at around 2:30 am Cairo time.

Hours later, French President Francois Hollande confirmed that the flight had "crashed."

The plane plunged into the Mediterranean between the Greek islands and the Egyptian coast early Thursday with 66 people on board: 56 passengers, including one child and 2 babies, plus 7 crew members and 3 security personnel.

It fell 22,000 feet and swerved sharply in Egyptian airspace before it disappeared from radar screens, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos told a news conference.

Egypt and Greece both said they had dispatched aircraft and naval vessels on a search mission and they were expected to be joined by French teams.

The flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport to Cairo normally takes just over 4 hours and the plane was scheduled to arrive at 3:05 am (0105 GMT).

There are no details yet on what caused the disappearance, and Hollande said "No hypothesis is ruled out or favored."

"We must ensure that we know everything on the causes of what happened," he said in a televised address.

"Whether it was an accident or another hypothesis that everyone has on their mind – a terrorist hypothesis... at this stage we must focus on our solidarity with the families and the search for the causes of the catastrophe," Hollande added.

The Paris prosecutor's office said its accident department had opened an investigation into the crash.

"We feel solidarity and compassion. It's not the first such catastrophe, and we know what it means for families and loved ones," Hollande said.

Between Greece and Egypt

The plane was already flying in Egyptian airspace when it vanished off the radar, the airline added. It was just 280 miles from the Egyptian coast, EgyptAir added.

A Greek aviation source said the flight had disappeared from Greek radar at around 0029 GMT.

Greek civil aviation chief Constantinos Litzerakos said the pilot had mentioned no problem in the last communication before the plane disappeared.

"The flight controllers contacted the pilot (with the plane) at a height of 37,000 feet (near Athens)... he did not mention a problem," Litzerakos told Greece's Antenna TV.

"We tracked the entire process from the plane's entry (into Greek airspace) to its exit, it does not appear to deviate at all from the coordinates we gave," he said.

Neither the Greek coastguard nor the navy could confirm reports that a passing ship had seen "a ball of fire in the sky".

The civil aviation chief said if there had been an explosion, any debris would have scattered across a wide distance.

The official said the last communication with the pilot was 3 minutes before the plane disappeared, and that there had been no distress call.

EgyptAir also said that the captain has logged a total of 6,275 flight hours – 2,101 of which are with the A320 aircraft – while the copilot has flown 2,766 hours.

As for the aircraft – which entered into service in 2003 – the Paris-Cairo flight was its 5th trip for the day, media reports said.

A map from flight tracking website FlightRadar showed where the plane disappeared from radar, over the Mediterranean Sea.

. @EGYPTAIR stating #MS804 has "disappeared from radar". FR24 flight track: https://t.co/6tH4GQzOWU pic.twitter.com/NteMuuFj1O — Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) May 19, 2016

According to the airline, the nationalities of the people on board are as follows:

For relatives of the passengers and crew, the airline has opened the following contact numbers:

A command center has been set up at the Cairo airport, the airline added.

Crisis meeting

Egyptian Prime Minister Sharif Ismail told reporters "we can't preclude or confirm anything yet," when asked if the flight could have been attacked.

Hollande called his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the leaders agreed to "cooperate closely" to establish what happened to the plane.

Hollande also set up a crisis meeting of top ministers, including Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the foreign, defense, and interior ministers, according to sources close to his office.

This is the second incident involving an EgyptAir plane this year.

In March, a man wearing an explosives-riddled vest hijacked an EgyptAir domestic flight and commanded it to fly to Cyprus. The explosives later turned out to be fake, and the man said he acted out of desperation to see his Cypriot ex-wife and children.

Last October, foreign governments issued travel warnings for Egypt and demanded review of security at its airports after the Islamic State group downed the Russian airliner with what it said was a bomb concealed in a soda can that had been smuggled into the hold.

The disappearance of the EgyptAir jet comes more than two years after the start of one of the most enduring mysteries in aviation history.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board, mostly Chinese and Malaysians.

Authorities believe the Boeing 777 detoured to the remote southern Indian Ocean and then plunged into the water. – With reports from Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com