EgyptAir says flight from Paris to Cairo missing with 66 on board

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EgyptAir Flight Disappears From Radar With 69 People on Board

An EgyptAir flight carrying 66 passengers and crew on a flight from Paris to Cairo disappeared from radar over the Mediterranean, Egypt's national airline said. Officials said they believed the jet has come down in the sea.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the search was underway to find the missing Airbus A320 and it was too early to rule out any explanation, including terrorism.

Officials with the airline and the Egyptian civil aviation department told Reuters they believed the jet had crashed into the Mediterranean between Greece and Egypt.

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However, it remained unclear whether the disappearance was due to technical failure or any other reason such as sabotage by ultra-hardline Islamists, who have targeted airports, airliners and tourist sites in Europe, Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle Eastern countries over the past few years.

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EgyptAir says flight from Paris to Cairo missing with 66 on board
A still image from video released May 19, 2016 shows EgyptAir Airbus A320 SU-GCC taking off at Brussels, Belgium, September 26, 2015. Mandatory credit The YottaTube/via REUTERS TV ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE.
An employee works at the EgyptAir desk at Charles de Gaulle airport, after an EgyptAir flight disappeared from radar during its flight from Paris to Cairo, in Paris, France, May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
An unidentified woman reacts as she waits outside the Egyptair in-flight service building, where relatives and friends of passengers who were flying in an EgyptAir plane that vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo are being held, at Cairo International Airport, Egypt May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
An unidentified man reacts as he waits outside the Egyptair in-flight service building, where relatives and friends of passengers who were flying in an EgyptAir plane that vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo are being held, at Cairo International Airport, Egypt May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
An unidentified woman reacts as she waits outside the Egyptair in-flight service building, where relatives and friends of passengers who were flying in an EgyptAir plane that vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo are being held, at Cairo International Airport, Egypt May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
The flight path of EgyptAir flight MS804 from Paris to Cairo is seen on a flight tracking screen May 19, 2016. Courtesy Flightradar24.com/Handout via Reuters 
FILE PHOTO - An EgyptAir plane is seen on the runway at Cairo Airport, Egypt in this September 5, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
Unidentified relatives and friends of passengers who were flying in an EgyptAir plane that vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo react as they wait outside the Egyptair in-flight service building where relatives are being held at Cairo International Airport, Egypt May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
FILE PHOTO - A general view shows the Terminal 1 at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Roissy, near Paris September 17, 2014, where missing EgyptAir flight MS804 originated from. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo
CAIRO, EGYPT - MAY 19: Relatives of passengers onboard missing EgyptAir flight MS804 cry at Cairo International Airport as they try to receive information in Cairo, Egypt on May 19, 2016. Airliner disappeared after entering the Egyptian airspace during its flight from Paris to Cairo. (Photo by Ala Ahmed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
French police officers and a sniffer dog patrol a terminal building at Charles de Gaulle airport, operated by Aeroports de Paris, in Roissy, France, on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Egypt deployed naval ships to search for an EgyptAir Airbus A320 en route to Cairo from Paris that went missing overnight off the coast of the North African country with 66 people on board. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A screenshot from Flightradar24.com showing the flight track of EgyptAir flight MS804 from Paris, France, to Cairo, Egypt. The Airbus A320 with 66 people on board disappeared from radar on May 19, 2016. TASS (Photo by TASS\TASS via Getty Images)
Egypt's Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy speaks during a press conference on May 19, 2016 at the Ministry of Civil Aviation at Cairo's airport after an EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo crashed into the Mediterranean sea with 66 people on board. The Airbus A320 fell 22,000 feet and swerved sharply twice in Egyptian airspace before it disappeared from radar screens, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told a news conference. Fathy said he could not rule out either terrorism or a technical problem. / AFP / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An employee sits at EgyptAir Airlines check in desk at Charles de Gaulle airport, operated by Aeroports de Paris, in Roissy, France, on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Egypt deployed naval ships to search for an EgyptAir Airbus A320 en route to Cairo from Paris that went missing overnight off the coast of the North African country with 66 people on board. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CAIRO, EGYPT - MAY 19: Travelers come and go from terminal 3 at the Cairo International Airport on May 19, 2016 in Cairo, Egypt. EgyptAir flight MS804 from Paris to Cairo carrying 66 passengers and crew vanished over the eastern Mediterranean last night. (Photo by David Degner/Getty Images).
Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy speaks, after EgyptAir plane vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo, during a news conference at headquarters of ministry in Cairo, Egypt May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Unidentified relatives and friends of passengers who were flying in an EgyptAir plane that vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo react as they wait outside the Egyptair in-flight service building where relatives are being held at Cairo International Airport, Egypt May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Egypt and EgyptAir flags are seen infront of an Egyptair in-flight service building, where relatives of passengers who were flying in an EgyptAir plane that vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo are being held, at Cairo International Airport, Egypt May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
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Egypt Air said the plane sent an emergency signal - possibly from an emergency beacon attached to the plane - at 04:26 a.m., two hours after it disappeared from radar screens.

In water crashes, an underwater beacon attached to the aircraft's flight recorders starts to emit a signal or ping. This helps search and rescue teams to locate the crash and find the boxes.

The aircraft was carrying 56 passengers - with one child and two infants among them - and 10 crew, EgyptAir said. They included 30 Egyptian and 15 French nationals, along with citizens of 10 other countries.

"The theory that the plane crashed and fell is now confirmed after the preliminary search and after it did not arrive at any of the nearby airports," said a senior aviation source, who declined to be identified.

Asked if he could rule out that terrorists were behind the incident, Prime Minister Ismail said: "We cannot exclude anything at this time or confirm anything. All the search operations must be concluded so we can know the cause."

"Search operations are ongoing at this time for the airplane in the area where it is believed to have lost contact," he told reporters at Cairo airport.

The pilot had clocked up 6,275 hours of flying experience, including 2,101 hours on the A320, while the first officer had 2,766 hours, the airline said.

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NO RESPONSE

Greek air traffic controllers spoke to the pilot as the jet flew over the island of Kea, in what was thought to be the last broadcast from the aircraft, and no problems were reported.

But just ahead of the handover to Cairo airspace, calls to the plane went unanswered, before it dropped off radars shortly after exiting Greek airspace, Kostas Litzerakis, the head of Greece's civil aviation department, told Reuters.

"During the transfer procedure to Cairo airspace, about seven miles before the aircraft entered the Cairo airspace, Greek controllers tried to contact the pilot but he was not responding," he said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will chair a national security council meeting on Thursday morning, a statement from his office said. It did not say if the meeting would discuss the plane.

At Cairo airport, authorities ushered families of the passengers and crew into a closed-off waiting area.

However, two women and a man, who said they were related to a crew member, were seen leaving the VIP hall where families were being kept. Asked for details, the man said: "We don't know anything, they don't know anything. No one knows anything."

Ayman Nassar, from the family of one of the passengers, also walked out of the passenger hall with his daughter and wife in a distressed state. "They told us the plane had disappeared, and that they're still searching for it and not to believe any rumors," he said.

A mother of flight attendant rushed out of the hall in tears. She said the last time her daughter called her was Wednesday night. "They haven't told us anything," she said.

EgyptAir said on its Twitter account that Flight MS804 had departed Paris at 23:09 (CEST). It disappeared at 02:30 a.m. at an altitude of 37,000 feet (11,280 meters) in Egyptian air space, about 280 km (165 miles) from the Egyptian coast before it was due to land at 03:15 a.m..

"There was nothing unusual," EgyptAir vice chairman Ahmed Adel told Reuters. "The search and rescue aircraft from the Egyptian air force are at the position where we lost contact. They are still looking and so far there is nothing found."

In Paris, a police source said investigators were now interviewing officers who were on duty at Roissy airport on Wednesday evening to find out whether they heard or saw anything suspicious. "We are in the early stage here," the source said.

Airbus said the missing A320 had been delivered to EgyptAir in November 2003 and had operated about 48,000 flight hours.

Greece said it had deployed aircraft and a frigate to the area to help with the search. A Greek defense ministry source said authorities were also investigating an account from the captain of a merchant ship who reported a 'flame in the sky' about 130 nautical miles south of the island of Karpathos.

FRANCE, EGYPT TO COOPERATE

The weather was clear at the time the plane disappeared, according to Eurocontrol, the European air traffic network. "Our daily weather assessment does not indicate any issues in that area at that time," it said.

Speed and altitude data from aviation website FlightRadar24.com indicated the plane was cruising at the time it disappeared.

French President Francois Hollande's office said the French leader had just spoken to his Egyptian counterpart and that both sides would cooperate closely.

Under U.N. aviation rules, Egypt will automatically lead an investigation into the accident assisted by countries including France, if it is confirmed that an Airbus jet was involved.

"We are in close contact with the Egyptian authorities, both civil and military," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio. "At this stage, no theory can be ruled out regarding the causes of the disappearance."

With its ancient archeological sites and Red Sea resorts, Egypt is a popular destination for Western tourists. But the industry was badly hit following the downing of a Russian jet last year, an Islamist insurgency and a string of bomb attacks in the country.

An Airbus A321 operated by Russia's Metrojet crashed in the Sinai on Oct. 31, 2015, killing all 224 people on board. Russia and Western governments have said the plane was probably brought down by a bomb, and the Islamic State militant group said it had smuggled an explosive device on board.

The crash called into question Egypt's campaign to eradicate Islamist militancy and has damaged its tourism industry, a cornerstone of the economy.

Islamist militants have stepped up attacks on Egyptian soldiers and police since Sisi, as army chief, toppled freely elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

In March, an EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus by a man with what authorities said was a fake suicide belt. He was arrested after giving himself up.

In the same month, Islamic State suicide bombers hit Brussels airport and a metro train in the worst such attacks in Belgian history, killing 32 people. Investigators believed they were carried out by the same cell that was behind November's gun and bomb attacks in Paris which claimed the lives of 130 people.

EgyptAir has a fleet of 57 Airbus and Boeing jets, including 15 of the Airbus A320 family of aircraft, according to airfleets.com.

The last fatal incident involving an EgyptAir aircraft was in May 2002, when a Boeing 737 crashed into a hill while on approach to Tunis–Carthage International Airport, killing 14 people.

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