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Search for EgyptAir plane crash survivors, debris

Families of passengers of EgyptAir Flight 804, now

Families of passengers of EgyptAir Flight 804, now believed to have crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, console one another at at Cairo airport on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / KHALED DESOUKI

CAIRO — Search-and-rescue teams from several nations combed the Mediterranean Sea late Thursday for possible survivors and debris from an EgyptAir plane that fell from the sky with 66 people aboard. Egyptian and Russian officials said it may have been brought down by terrorists.

EgyptAir Flight 804, an Airbus A320 with 56 passengers and 10 crew members, went down about halfway between the Greek island of Crete and Egypt’s coastline, or around 175 miles offshore, after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, authorities said. Among the passengers were two infants and one child. Seven were crew members, and three were security personnel.

French authorities told reporters at a news conference that it is usual practice for EgyptAir to have three security officers onboard.

No Americans were on the flight, the airline said. Among those aboard, it said, were 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, two Iraqis and a passenger each from Algeria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Chad, Kuwait, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

The disappearance of the plane was the country’s third air incident since October, eroding confidence in the safety of Egypt’s air travel.

EgyptAir said earlier in the day that bits of wreckage had been found near the Greek island of Karpathos, about 250 miles from the Egyptian coast. But a senior Greek air safety official said on state television that the debris did not belong to the aircraft, and the airline later retracted its statement.

Investigators emphasized they were leaving open all possibilities, but Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Sherif Fathy, suggested terrorism seemed more likely than a technical failure.

U.S. officials offered to assist the search and investigation, but they cautioned it was too early to determine the cause. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said there was not yet enough evidence to “draw any conclusions.” He said, “There certainly are reports that it broke apart in midair that I think are credible, but the cause of that is still not known.”

The Airbus A320 left Paris at 11:09 p.m. Wednesday. It flew as scheduled across Europe, passing over northern Italy and down the Adriatic coast. Nothing seemed amiss when the pilot spoke with Greek air traffic controllers at 2:26 a.m. Thursday.

As the plane left Greek airspace, the pilot “was in good spirits and thanked the controller in Greek,” according to Greece’s civil aviation agency.

But shortly after entering Egyptian airspace, the plane made “sudden swerves” and dropped from 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet, said Greece’s defense minister, Panos Kammenos. The first turn was a sharp, 90-degree veer to the east after the plane passed over the Greek island of Karpathos, he said. Then the plane made a full circular loop — a “360-degree turn,” he said.

Alexander Bortnikov, chief of Russia’s top domestic security agency, said, “In all likelihood it was a terror attack.”

There was no immediate claim from militants that they had downed the plane.

The pilot had more than 6,000 hours of flight experience, including more than 2,000 hours flying the same model as the vanished aircraft, EgyptAir said. The co-pilot had nearly 3,000 flying hours. The plane had been in service for more than 17 of the 24 hours before the crash.

The Egyptian military said it did not receive a distress call and Egypt’s state-run daily Al-Ahram quoted an unidentified airport official as saying the pilot did not send one.

With AP

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