“We do not deny there is a possibility of terrorism or deny the possibility of technical fault,” Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy said in Cairo. “I will continue to use the term missing plane until we find any debris."
The aircraft – an Airbus A320 -carrying 66 passengers and crew had disappeared from radar in Egyptian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea.
It had departed Paris at 23:09 (CEST), heading to Cairo but disappeared from radar shortly after leaving Greek airspace.
The airline said the aircraft had been at an altitude of 37,000 feet (11,280 metres), when it disappeared at 02:45, 20 minutes before it was due to land at Cairo’s International airport.
Greek authorities said they had been in contact with the crew a few minutes before the flight crossed the FIR, the boundary between Greek and Egyptian airspace. But there had been no response during the handover.
The Greek air traffic controllers said they saw a “swerving” and then the aircraft disappeared from radar screens.
The Egyptian authorities were quick to respond and immediately set up an emergency control centre at the airport using a private lounge. Medical staff were on hand to meet the families and friends of passengers and crew. However families were critical that they weren’t being given information. “Nobody is telling us anything” one family member complained to waiting media.
Arabian and African Aerospace magazine’s editor-in-chief Alan Peaford told international broadcast channels that this was not surprising. “Of course the families are in a state of distress. They are thirsty for every bit of information and are searching websites, blogs and social media for the latest news. EgyptAir has gone public to appeal for people to stop speculating and use the official reports only as speculation only causes greater distress, The trouble is of course that EgyptAir doesn’t know anything either at this stage. Until wreckage is found and investigation begins no one can say what the cause is – and that doesn’t ease the pain for the families. Nothing can.”
Among the 56 passengers there are 12 different nationalities. The majority are Egyptian, but there were also 15 French nationals on the flight. France immediately offered its assistance with aircraft or investigation support.
Egypt’s government had reported that a signal had been received from an emergency locator beacon in the vicinity of where the radar tracking had ended. Ships and aircraft from Greece and Egypt headed to the area.
The report of the signal was later retracted by Egypt who said it had been a mistake.
Debris within a 250 mile range of the last known position was also being reported by ships – although there was no confirmation that the debris was from the missing Airbus.
The pilot is reported to have 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 Greek authorities said that the crew were in “good spirits” when they were in radio contact.
Of the ten crew on board. Three are believed to have been air marshals in a bid to combat the increased threat of terrorism.
Egypt is highly dependent on tourism and the industry has suffered as a result of two other aviation-related incidents in the past year. An Airbus A321 operated by Russia’s Metrojet crashed in the Sinai on October 31, 2015, killing all 224 people on board. Russia and Western governments have said the plane was likely brought down by a bomb, and the Islamic State militant group said it had smuggled an explosive device on board. 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.
Stay up to date
Subscribe to the free Times Aerospace newsletter and receive the latest content every week. We'll never share your email address.