As it happened - EgyptAir plane crashes in Med | News | DW | 19.05.2016

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As it happened - EgyptAir plane crashes in Med

Rescuers believe they have found some of the wreckage from Cairo-bound EgyptAir flight MS804 in the Mediterranean Sea. The plane went down overnight on a Paris-to-Cairo flight, with 66 people aboard.

The search continues for EgyptAir flight MS804. The airline and Egypt's government said on Thursday evening that probable parts of the wreckage had been located off the Greek island of Karpathos.

"The Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation has received an official letter from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that confirms the finding of the wreckage of the missing aircraft No. MS 804," it said on its Twitter account. "The Egyptian Investigation Team in cooperation with the Greek counterpart are still searching for other remains of the missing plane."

The Airbus A320, which has an excellent safety record, was carrying 66 people, including 30 Egyptians and 15 French citizens, when it disappeared during an overnight flight from Paris to Cairo.

The cause of the apparent crash is unknown. Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy told reporters in Cairo that a terror attack seemed more "likely" than technical failure, but would not rule out either possibility. Russian officials also said an attack seemed likely. Other governments have urged patience with investigations pending.

Both Egypt and France have been victims of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamist extremists in the past year.

You can re-read DW's minute-by-minute coverage of the crash below.

All updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC)

16:44: Egyptian airport officials have identified two more victims from the EgyptAir flight that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea overnight.

Hisham el-Maqawad was the sister-in-law of the deputy to the Egyptian ambassador in Paris. Sahar al-Khawaga, a Saudi woman who worked at the Saudi Embassy in Cairo, was also among the victims of Thursday's plane crash.

Al-Khawaga, who had worked at the diplomatic mission in the Egyptian capital for 13 years, was said to be in Paris to follow up on her daughter's medical treatment there.

16:34: France is sending three investigators, and a technical expert from Airbus, to Cairo, to join the investigation into the crash of EgyptAir flight MS804, according to Transport Minister Alain Vidalies.

The specialists, from France's Bureau of Investigations and Analysis for Civil Aviation Security, were set to leave later in the day.

16:23: Greece says it is reducing its assets committed to finding the missing airliner after discovering debris, including two life jackets, thought to be from flight MS804, 230 miles (370 km) south of the Greek island of Crete. The location of the debris is inside Egyptian territorial waters.

But a Greek transport aircraft is to remain in the area.

15:47: Egypt will lead the official committee investigating the disappearance of EgyptAir flight MS804, according to Ayman al-Moqadem, the head of Egypt's Air Accidents Investigation department.

The committee will also include France, which is both the manufacturing home for the Airbus 320 and the country with the second-largest number of victims (15) on board.

The committee will commence its search for the black boxes once the remains of the plane are found.

15:34: French President Francois Hollande held an emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace. He also spoke with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi by telephone.

The two men agreed to "closely cooperate to establish as soon as possible the circumstances" surrounding the disaster, according to a statement.

In Cairo, former general el-Sissi convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, the country's highest security body. It includes the defense, foreign and interior ministers, in addition to the chiefs of the intelligence agencies.

15:28: Egyptian security officials say they are running background checks on the passengers to see if any had links to extremists.

15:19: The US Navy has deployed a long range P-3 Orion surveillance plane to help search for the wreckage of the flight MS804 that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea Thursday.

15:16: Britain has dispatched Royal Navy support ship RFA Lyme Bay, which is in the Mediterranean, and a C-130 Hercules aircraft from Royal Air Force base Akrotiri in Cyprus, to help in the search.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said "we stand ready to offer further assistance" if needed.

One UK citizen was aboard the EgyptAir flight bound for Cairo.

15:09: Aviation experts say there is little chance that the plane was brought down by mechanical failure.

"A major technical fault - the explosion of an engine, for instance - seems improbable," said aeronautics expert Gerard Feldzer.

The A320 has an excellent safety record and is the best-selling medium-range airliner in the world; with one taking off or landing every 30 seconds.

Jean-Paul Troadec, former director of France's aviation Bureau of Investigation and Analysis, agreed, during an interview with Europe 1 radio.

"It's a modern plane, the incident happened in mid-flight in extremely stable conditions," he said. "The quality of the maintenance and the quality of the plane are not in question in this incident."

14:57: Another missing passenger was from Chad. His name was not released by the embassy in Paris, but spokesman Muhammed Allamine said the man's mother had died and he "was going (home) to give condolences to his family."

He was also a student at France's prestigious Saint-Cyr army academy.

14:47: Kuwait's Foreign Ministry has identified a Kuwaiti national feared dead in the EgyptAir plane crash.

A ministry statement Thursday afternoon identified the missing passenger as Abdulmohsen al-Muteiri. The statement, carried by the Kuwait News Agency, gave no other details about al-Muteiri.

14:37: US President Barack Obama received a briefing on the plane's disappearance from his homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, the White House said.

14:27: Greek officials said two life vests were found floating in the Mediterranean Sea some 230 miles (370km) south of Crete.

14:13: The head of Russia's top domestic security agency, Alexander Bortnikov, said of EgyptAir flight MS804 that "in all likelihood it was a terror attack."

Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, called for an international effort to find those responsible; he did not say why he thought it was a terror attack.

13:17: Greek military spokesman Vassilis Beletsiotis has confirmed the discovery of debris, close to the Mediterranean search area.

"There have been finds southeast of Crete, inside the Cairo flight information area," Beletsiotis said. An Egyptian C-130 plane also spotted the floating objects. Ships are being sent to investigate.

13:15: The UK has offered its support to Egypt in the search for the missing EgyptAir flight. "We have offered assistance to the Egyptian authorities, but so far we have not had any requests for support," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said. One Briton was aboard flight MS804.

13:05:Greek officials have found "two orange items" believed to be from missing Egypt Air flight MS804. The pieces of plastic were reportedly found in the Mediterranean Sea, 370 kilometers (230 miles) from the Greek island of Crete.

12:50:Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi has said the possibility of a terrorist attack is "stronger" than a technical fault.

"The situation may indicate that the likelihood of a terrorist work is far higher than the likelihood that the plane developed a technical failure," he said. "But we have to wait for investigations."

12:19: Search efforts to find debris belonging to the missing MS804 flight off the Greek island of Karpathos have been expanded.

12:11: Egypt's top prosecutor has ordered an immediate inquiry in the missing Egyptair flight MS804.

12:05: Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi has refused to confirm that the missing aircraft had crashed. "I'll use the term a 'missing plane' until the wreckage of the aircraft is found," he said. "We do not know yet causes of its disappearance."

11:48: Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy said technical failure and "terrorism" could not be ruled out as causes for the aircraft's disappearance.

11:13: The Egyptian presidency issued a statement following a National Security Council meeting, saying search and rescue operations are set to continue. The statement did not specify the cause for the plane's disappearance.

11:04: Greece's Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said the aircraft "made swerves" immediately after entering Cairo's Flight Information Region (FIR).

"The plane carried out a 90-degree turn to the left and a 360-degree turn to the right, falling from 37,000 feet (11,000 meters) to 15,000 feet and the signal was lost at around 10,000 feet," Kammenos said during a press briefing.

The search and rescue operation has not resulted in the location of the aircraft, the defense minister added.

10:32: French President Francois Hollande suggested during a televised speech that flight MS804 "crashed."

"We must ensure that we know everything on the causes of what happened. No hypothesis is ruled out or favored," Hollande said.

10:29: The Paris prosecutor's office launched an investigation into the disappearance of EgyptAir flight MS804.

10:10: NATO is prepared to support the search and rescue operation, the alliance's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

"I know that there are national search and rescue efforts ongoing and that France and Egypt have agreed to cooperate and to work closely together, investigating what happened," Stoltenberg said.

"If there is any request for NATO assistance, then of course we stand ready to help," the alliance's head added.

10:06: France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned against the circulation of unverified information, adding that "nothing is confirmed" with regard to the disappearance of EgyptAir flight MS804.

France's foreign minister extended a message of compassion and support to those affected by the aircraft's disappearance

France's foreign minister extended a "message of compassion and support" to those affected by the aircraft's disappearance

09:58: Egypt's Health Minister Ahmed Emad ordered hospitals located in cities on the country's northern coast to prepare for the possibility of survivors, reported Cairo-based independent newspaper Daily News Egypt.

09:01: Ship tracking site Marine Traffic said at least eight merchant vessels have joined the search and rescue operation to locate the missing airplane.

08:52: The French foreign minister "expressed condolences over the plane incident involving the EgyptAir airplane that went down, and (Egypt's Foreign Minister) Shoukry in turn expressed condolences for the French casualties who were on board the plane," Egypt's foreign ministry said in a statement.

08:45: The French military said one of its surveillance jets used to monitor irregular migration across the Mediterranean Sea joined the search and rescue operation led by the Egyptian armed forces, according to AP news agency.

A screenshot from flight tracking site FlightRadar 24 showing where the flight lost contact with radar

A screenshot from flight tracking site FlightRadar 24 showing where the flight lost contact with radar

08:12: Airbus, the aircraft's manufacturer, issued a statement expressing its regret over the loss of the plane.

"Airbus regrets to confirm that an A320 operated by Egyptair was lost at around 02:30 am (Egypt local time) today over the Mediterranean sea ... Our concerns to all those affected," the statement said.

08:02: "EgyptAir denies all misleading information published by news websites and social media channels regarding the reasons of the disappearance of EgyptAir flight MS804, and the company confirms that the reason of disappearance hasn't been yet confirmed," the carrier said in a statement.

08:01: European air traffic network manager Eurocontrol issued a statement saying there were no weather issues in the area when the aircraft lost contact with radar.

"There is no significant impact on traffic at present, although there is search and rescue activity in the area," Eurocontrol said.

07:54: Egypt's premier told reporters that terrorism could not be ruled out as a cause for the passenger plane's disappearance.

"We cannot exclude anything at this time or confirm anything. All the search operations must be concluded so we can know the cause," Egypt's prime minister said after being asked whether terrorists were behind the incident.

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail spoke to reporters outside Cairo International Airport, where EgyptAir's crisis center is based

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail spoke to reporters outside Cairo International Airport, where EgyptAir's crisis center is based

07:40: Egypt's President el-Sissi convened the National Security Council in response to the disappearance of EgyptAir flight MS804, according to state-run al-Ahram news outlet.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters from the EgyptAir crisis center that rescue operations are ongoing, adding that there is no confirmation on the location and condition of the aircraft.

07:37: Egypt's civil aviation ministry said in an official statement that it is too early to confirm whether the aircraft crashed.

The ministry's remarks come as news agencies reported Egyptian civil aviation officials confirming, on condition of anonymity, flight MS804 crashed in the Mediterranean Sea.

07:21: Flight tracking site FlightRadar24 said it did not detect an "emergency squawk" from EgyptAir flight MS804.

07:15: The Egyptian army denied that it received a distress signal from the aircraft.

The armed forces "had not received any SOS signal," said army spokesman Mohammed Samir in a statement published on Facebook, according to state-run al-Ahram news outlet.

The military's announcement contradicts an earlier report from EgyptAir.

07:02: Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail arrived at EgyptAir's crisis center at Cairo International Airport, according to the carrier.

The premier was "presented with a detailed briefing about the situation from the crisis team and he has directed all the concerned authorities to take all necessary action for dealing with the crisis," EgyptAir said.

Egypt's civil aviation minister has also arrived at the crisis center.

06:46: In the past year, Egypt has struggled with a series of aviation crises.

In March, an Egyptian man hijacked a domestic EgyptAir flight and redirected the aircraft to Cyprus after threatening to blow up the plane, saying he was strapped with a suicide belt.

A Russian passenger flight departing from the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg was downed in October, killing all 224 people on board. The "Islamic State" militant group's Sinai affiliate claimed responsibility for the aviation tragedy.

The attack prompted Russian authorities to suspend all commercial flights between Egypt and Russia.

Moscow banned all flights to Egypt in November after a Russian passenger plane was downed over Egypt's Sinai region

Moscow banned all flights to Egypt in November after a Russian passenger plane was downed over Egypt's Sinai region

06:41: EgyptAir announced on Twitter that it is working with authorities to determine the location and cause of the aircraft's disappearance via its crisis center.

"EgyptAir crisis center is following up with the concerned authorities and EgyptAir will issue any additional information once available," the carrier said.

06:17: Egypt's armed forces said it received a distress signal from the aircraft at 02:26, approximately two hours after the plane lost contact with radar, according to EgyptAir.

6:10: Officials of Egypt's civil aviation ministry said the plane crashed since it did not land at any of the nearby airports, according to AP news agency.

06:08: Greek air traffic controllers spoke with the pilot as the plane flew through EU airspace, adding that no issues were reported at the time.

"The pilot did not mention any problems," Kostas Litzerakis, head of Greece's civil aviation department, told Reuters news agency.

According to the carrier, the pilot had 6,275 flying hours, including 2,101 on an Airbus 320. The co-pilot had accrued 2,766 flying hours.

06:05: France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls told RTL radio that French authorities are prepared to join the search and rescue operation.

He added that a crisis center has been opened at the Charles de Gaulle Airport to provide support for families.

05:56: "We are aware of media reports. At this time we have no further details, but we will provide further information when available," the aircraft's manufacturer Airbus said in a tweet.

05:55: The French government announced that President Francois Hollande spoke with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, adding that they agreed to "closely cooperate to establish the circumstances" of flight MS804's disappearance.

05:45: EgyptAir released the nationalities of the passengers on board flight MS804. At least 30 Egyptian and 15 French nationals were on the aircraft when it disappeared. Passengers were also from the following countries: the UK, Belgium, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.

03:52: EgyptAir announced it was in contact with Egypt's aviation authorities. The carrier added that the country's armed forces launched a search and rescue operation.

Greece's air force and navy also joined the maritime rescue operation.

00:30 Flight MS804 lost contact with radar after entering Egyptian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea. The aircraft - an Airbus A320 - was flying at an altitude of 37,000 feet (11,000 meters).

21:09 (May 18): EgyptAir flight MS804 bound for Cairo departed from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris carrying 66 people on board, including 56 passengers, seven crew members and three security personnel.

ls, ksb, bk/jil (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)