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‘Debris' from missing EgyptAir flight found in Mediterranean

© AFP Egyptian Defence Ministry | An image grab taken from a handout video released by the Egyptian Defence Ministry on May 20, 2016 shows the Egyptian military conducting a search mission in the Mediterranean Sea.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-05-20

Egypt said Friday that debris from the missing EgyptAir flight had been recovered from the Mediterranean along with human remains. Flight MS804 was en route to Cairo from Paris when it vanished from radar early Thursday with 66 people on board.

The Egyptian army announced Friday that it had located plane debris and passengers' personal belongings some 190 miles (306 kilometres) north of the city of Alexandria in the Mediterranean Sea.

Egypt’s civil aviation confirmed later that the military had also found human remains believed to belong to those on board.

“The Egyptian navy was able to retrieve more debris from the plane, some of the passengers’ belongings, human remains and plane seats. The search is ongoing,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Airbus A320 plane was flying from Paris to Cairo when it disappeared early Thursday over the sea. The 66 passengers and crew on board included 30 Egyptians, 15 French, two Iraqis and one passenger each from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Chad, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Portugal, Algeria, Canada and Kuwait.

Egyptian airport officials said that investigators will inspect the plane debris and personal belongings that the Egyptian army says it found. They added that the chief Egyptian investigator Ayman el-Mokadam will be joined by French and British investigators as well as an expert from Airbus.

The discovery of debris came minutes before the Egyptian presidency expressed its "deep sadness and extreme regret" over the deaths of the 66 passengers and crew members aboard the flight.

The statement was the first official recognition by the Egyptian authorities of the tragic crash of the missing plane.

Meanwhile families and loved ones of the 15 French passengers arrived in Cairo late Thursday as the search for clues to the latest aviation disaster intensified.

“They were met by Egyptian and French consulate officials here, including a medical team with psychologists to look after them while they are here,” said FRANCE 24’s Adam Pletts from Cairo. “It’s clearly going to be a very emotional time for them. Of course the main reason they are here is to find out what’s happened.”

French investigative team arrives in Cairo

A team of three French investigators and a technical expert from Airbus arrived at Cairo International Airport early Friday to aid in the investigation of the missing Egypt flight.

France is participating in the investigation as it is the country from where the flight took off as well as where the Airbus 320 plane was manufactured. It also has the second-most number of passengers on board.

More than 24 hours after Greek air traffic controllers lost contact with the crew, questions remained over how and why the Airbus A320 plunged into the sea.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Friday there was "absolutely no indication" what had caused the crash of the flight.

"We're looking at all possibilities, but none is being favoured over the others because we have absolutely no indication on the causes (of the crash)," Ayrault told a French TV station.

Ayrault’s comments appeared to contradict a statement by Egyptian Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi on Thursday that the crash was more likely caused by a terrorist attack than a technical failure.

Reporting from Cairo, Pletts said the statements reflected “different interpretations of the same information, and that information itself is very sparse”.

The Egyptian civil aviation minister’s comments, Pletts noted, reflected “his confidence in the fleet and the pilot rather than any evidence to suggest it’s terrorism”.

'EgyptAir has suffered dramatic losses'

EgyptAir Flight MS804 left Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport late Wednesday and was last in contact with Greek aviation officials before it lost contact with radars around 2:30am Cairo time (GMT+2).

Greek defence minister Panos Kammenos on Thursday said the plane spun all the way around and suddenly lost altitude just before vanishing from radar screens. There were no reports of stormy weather at the time.

Questions over security at Paris airport

Thursday's disaster also raises questions about security at CDG Airport, at a time when Western Europe has been on high alert over the deadly Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and at the Brussels airport and subway over the past six months.

French Foreign Minister Ayrault said that airport security had been tightened considerably before the disaster, in part because of the coming European soccer championship, which France is hosting.

The Egyptian military said it did not receive a distress call from the doomed plane, and Egypt's state-run daily Al-Ahram quoted an unidentified airport official as saying the pilot did not send one. That could mean that whatever sent the aircraft plummeting into the sea was sudden.

Its erratic course suggested a number of possible explanations, including a catastrophic mechanical or structural failure, a bombing, or a struggle over the controls with a hijacker in the cockpit.

Egyptian security officials said they were running background checks on the passengers to see if any had links to extremists.

In the US, the FBI offered its assistance in the investigation. FBI Director James Comey said the bureau has no evidence yet that the plane was brought down intentionally.

In an interview with the Associated Press, retired US Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Latiff, an aerospace expert at the University of Notre Dame, said that while it is too early to tell for certain, an accidental structural failure of the highly reliable A320 is "vanishingly improbable".

He also cast doubt on the possibility of a struggle in the cockpit, saying the crew would have triggered an alarm.

Instead, he said, "sabotage is possible, and if there were lax controls at airports and loose hiring and security policies, increasingly likely".

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-05-20

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