Closed EgyptAir flight MS804 crash unfolds

An EgyptAir aircraft on a flight from Paris to Cairo has crashed into the Mediterranean, with 66 people on board.

A multinational search and rescue effort is underway in an area between the Greek island of Karpathos and the northern coast of Egypt.

Key points

  • Flight MS804 left Paris on Wednesday night, but lost contact at around 02:45 Egyptian time

  • The plane, an Airbus A320, was carrying 56 passengers and 10 crew

  • The authorities have said it is too early to say what caused the crash

  • There are reports that debris, believed to be from the aircraft, has been spotted in the sea

EgyptAir has recently released the passenger nationalities on flight MS804:

EgyptAir has also said it has been told by the Egyptian military that there was a “distress signal” sent at 0426 local time from the plane’s emergency equipment, almost two hours after contact with the flight was lost.

A Greek defence ministry official says three military aircraft have flown to the area southeast of Karpathos island as part of a search and rescue mission.

A Super Puma helicopter based on the island is also taking part, while a Greek navy frigate is also on its way, he said.

The Egyptian prime minister has now arrived at the EgyptAir crisis centre at Cairo airport, the airline says.

According to FlightRadar24, which tracks flights globally, this is the last known position of flight MS804.

Marine Traffic has this map showing ships searching for flight MS804 in the southeastern Mediterranean.

Chris Phillips, former head of the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office, told the BBC Today programme:

“These planes are so reliable these days. Very rarely do they have malfunction that wouldn’t at least inform the ground and certainly the pilots then would have an opportunity to communicate. So I think that’s the issue here. It is so dramatic, so quick and that points really to some kind of explosion.”

The French media is reporting that President François Hollande has called an emergency ministerial meeting to discuss what is still being described as the “disappearance” of Egyptair Flight MS804.

Mr Hollande has spoken to his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and they have agreed the two countries will cooperate. Prime minister Manuel Valls told French radio that “at this time there is no clear explanation for the causes of the disappearance,” adding that France is “ready to aid the investigations” if the Egyptian authorities so wish.

FastFT has an update here on European airline share price movements this morning.

In terms of procedure, should it prove that the aircraft has crashed (and there are no reports of it landing anywhere) then the French authorities will get involved as a matter of course.

This is because the aircraft involved is an A320, built by Airbus in 2003. The European aircraft maker would have built that aircraft at its assembly line in Toulouse, southern France, and international law dictates that the country of manufacture sends its air crash specialists to help in any investigation.

Greek officials said earlier that search planes had been sent to the area southeast of Karpathos island. Here’s where that is, from Google Maps.

French safety authorities say they are “in touch with Egyptian authorities” but they will be not making a statement until their role in any investigation has been defined.

An update from Heba Saleh in Cairo:

Asked if terrorism could be the cause of the of the presumed crash of MS804 in the Mediterranean, Sherif Ismail, the Egyptian prime minister, said that his country was not excluding any explanation at this stage.

It was also announced that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the president, will chair a meeting of the country’s national security council to discuss the disappearance of the airliner.

The airline has also issued a brief update, via Twitter:

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.

Airbus, which built the missing plane, has just issued a statement:

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. The aircraft was operating a scheduled service, Flight MS 804 from Paris, France to Cairo, Egypt.

The aircraft involved, registered under SU-GCC was MSN (Manufacturer Serial Number) 2088 delivered to Egyptair from the production line in November 2003. The aircraft had accumulated approximately 48,000 flight hours. It was powered by IAE engines. At this time no further factual information is available.

With search teams still looking for the aircraft, speculation remains rife about what might have happened to Egyptair flight MS804. What is confirmed is that the weather was good in that part of the Mediterranean at the time of the disappearance.

Greek air traffic controllers were unable to contact the Egypt air pilot to check the plane had left Greek-controlled airspace, or Flight Information Region (FIR), as its known.

“The controller tried repeatedly to make contact but there was no reply,” authority director Constantinos Litzerakos told Mega television.

The aircraft was south of the Greek island of Karpathos and heading towards Cairo when it vanished off radar.

A civil aviation official told the FT’s Kerin Hope: “It’s logical to start looking for the plane on the flight path south east of Karpathos before you hit Egyptian FIR.”

Our markets desk has this update on the reaction to the plane’s disappearance:

Cairo’s main stock index, the EGX 30 fell 1.7 per cent on Thursday, turning around from a rally established earlier in the week, but remaining off its lows for the month. The losses were led by construction-related stocks at sector level.

Egypt’s pound remained flat on currency markets.

On European stock markets, airline and travel stocks were weaker. EasyJet’s shares fell 1.7 per cent. IAG, the owner of British Airways and Iberia, were 1.4 per cent weaker. Deutsche Lufthansa fell 1.4 per cent. Accor, the hotelier, fell 1.2 per cent. Tour operators were weaker, with their losses following Thomas Cook’s warning that its profits underlying earnings for the full-year would be at the lower end of expectations. Thomas Cook shares tumbled 17 per cent. Tui fell 2.7 per cent.

The Egyptian army has now denied an earlier claim by EgyptAir that the military’s search and rescue services had picked up a distress signal from the plane’s emergency equipment at 4:26am local time, says the FT’s Heba Saleh.

Search and rescue teams are currently looking for any sign of wreckage in the area the aircraft went missing. If the aircraft has crashed then search vessels will be expecting to pick up the signal from transponders fitted to the aircraft’s black box recorders.

There is another system on modern aircraft that feeds information in real-time back to the airline’s maintenance centre, called ACARS. This system would have made the airline aware there was a problem onboard, but not all airlines pay for the full service and it is unclear whether the EgyptAir aircraft was using it.

The Egyptian army is posting updates on the search operation on its Facebook page here, in Arabic.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s foreign minister, said “we must keep all hypotheses open” as he urged respect and compassion for the families of the missing passengers during a press conference in Paris. Mr Ayrault said that France had extended an offer of help to Egypt.

The FT’s defence and security editor, Sam Jones, reports:

British security officials said they were in “urgent contact” with counterparts in Paris and Cairo to try and ascertain the cause of the crash. One British national was on board the flight.

Paris prosecutors have launched an investigation into the missing EgyptAir flight.

“No hypothesis is ruled out at this stage” the prosecutor said in a statement.

François Hollande, French president, has been speaking at a press conference in Paris. He confirmed the missing plane has “crashed”.

“We have a duty to know everything about what happened. No hypothesis is preferred, no hypothesis is being ruled out.”

The Élysée Palace has been tweeting comments from Hollande’s press conference. This appears to be the key line: “Il s’est abîmé” which means “it has crashed.”

An update from Kerin Hope in Athens:

Greek defence minister Panos Kammenos told a press conference that Greek military radar showed the EgyptAir plane making a sharp 90 degree left turn shortly after leaving Greece’s flight information region while flying at 36,000 feet .

The plane spun around before falling rapidly to 10,000 feet where it dropped off the radar, he said.

Mr Kammenos asked for “all countries with satellites operating over the Mediterranean” to cooperate in locating the aircraft. France has two satellites in the region.

Greek, Egyptian, French and US military aircraft are participating in the search mission, covering a broad area southeast of the Greek island of Karpathos. he said.

The Egyptian aviation minister is giving a press conference in Cairo. You can watch it live, via the BBC, here.

The Egyptian aviation minister is insisting on using the word “missing” to describe the plane, rather than “crashed”.

“We haven’t found the plane yet,” says the minister. “All we know now is that there is a missing plane.”

The Egyptian aviation minister, Sherif Fathy, urged the media to stop speculating and said the focus must be on “where the plane is and whether we can find any debris.” He said only then “can we try to find the cause behind it.”

He added:

I can’t deny it could be a terrorist act or a technical act.

It is worth noting that the information that the Greek defence minister gave earlier about the aircraft performing a sudden sharp turn to the left before seemingly rolling over and going into a dive does not prove either way whether the aircraft suffered a catastrophic mechanical problem or whether it may have been brought down by a deliberate act.

There has been some speculation that the lack of a distress call by the crew would point to a deliberate act but as it stands this incident also bears some similarities to the crash of another A320, operated by AirAsia in December 2014. The pilots of that aircraft did not send a distress call either as the crew grappled to regain control of the aircraft after it developed a problem with its rudder.

The pilots had been trying to avoid thunderstorms over the western Java Sea. The pilots lost control of the aircraft after a miscommunication between the two put it into a stall. It took two days to find the first wreckage and bodies.

The UK Foreign Secretary put this out on Twitter a bit earlier:

EmoticonJack Farchy, one of the FT’s Moscow correspondents reports that Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the FSB, the Russian security service, has told reporters in Minsk that the aircraft was brought down by an act of terrorism.

You know what happened with the plane in Egypt. By all appearances, this is a terrorist act, which resulted in the deaths of 66 citizens of different countries.

He added:

We call on all interested parties, including our partners in Europe, to take joint measures to identify those involved in this terrorist act.

EmoticonGreek state television is reporting debris from the aircraft has been spotted in the Mediterranean south of the island of Karpathos

The UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has issued a longer statement following his earlier Tweet:

My thoughts are with the family and friends of all those missing following the disappearance of EgyptAir’s flight MS804. We are in close contact with Egyptian and French authorities and have offered the Egyptian authorities our support in their search and rescue efforts.

We know that one British passport holder boarded the flight in Paris and our staff are providing support and assistance to the family at this difficult time. We will continue to help in any way we can.

Not surprisingly, there is still a bit of confusion around about the debris that has been spotted. One report suggested it was seen by a Greek naval vessel, now another says it was spotted by an Egyptian search aircraft. Reports suggest two orange objects have been spotted in the sea. It is worth bearing in mind that during the search for MH370, the aircraft that disppeared without a trace in the southern Indian Ocean, there were a lot of false sightings of debris. But then that search was akin to finding a needle in a haystack. The difference in this case is that the authorities have a pretty good idea where the aircraft would have gone down

Here’s a photo of the Egyptair A320 crashed in flight earlier this month

A bit more on the ground reporting from Adam Thomson, one of our Paris correspondents, who was at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris earlier, where he said the mood around the EgyptAir desk was sombre:

The airport authority had draped a grey curtain around the area where people were checking in to EgyptAir’s afternoon flight to Cairo to avoid travelers being mobbed by reporters.

But Mohamed Shoar, a young Egyptian who had just spent three days on holiday in Paris and was preparing to board the plane to go to back to Cairo, was happy to talk.

“I got lots of calls from my family back home in Egypt because they were afraid that I was on that plane,” he explained. But he said that beyond his sadness for the missing people, he never considered changing his flight.

He also said he would continue travelling on a regular basis. “I don’t know anything about it, no-one knows what happened exactly to the plane so we cannot say it’s a terrorist act.”

Heba Saleh reports from Cairo that the Egyptian aviation minister Sherif Fathy may have gone beyond his remit. Pushed earlier at a press conference on whether he thought the mechanical failure or terrorism was most likely to blame, he said:

The possibility of terrorist attack is higher than technical failure, but it is still speculations and assumptions

Our correspondent in Egypt says it appeared that the minister was trying to suggest the aircraft was in good condition and that he was not basing his comments on any information he might have had from other sources.

More from the Greek defence ministry:

Eight merchant ships in the area were notified by Greek authorities the plane was missing and changed course to look for survivors. None found so far.

The Greek navy has also sent a submarine to join the search mission. The area covered is 3km deep so the plane may be hard to find.

Kerin Hope reports from Athens that the Greek defence ministry just issued a fresh statement amid ongoing confusion about whether or not debris has been sighted. It said an Egyptian airforce C-295 searching the area where the plane vanished has located a “floating object” in the sea 200km southeast of Crete. An hour later a Greek C-130 military aircraft confirmed it was an orange life-jacket that could have come from the missing plane. Egyptian naval vessels were on their way Airbus. The C-130 earlier reported a “silver object” floating beneath the surface. Egyptian navy ships were on their way to pick up the debris, located in international waters in Egypt’s FIR, the statement said

Just to recap on the briefing from the Greeks earlier this morning. It seems Greek air traffic controllers lost contact with the pilots about 10 minutes before they were due to hand them over to their Egyptian counterparts. This is what Konstantinos Lintzerakos, Greece Civil Aviation Authority’s director, said earlier in a TV interview, according to Kerin Hope in Athens.

Greek air traffic controllers were in contact with the pilot who reported no problems as the aircraft cruised at 37,000 feet, travelling at 519 mph.
The controllers tried to make contact with the pilot 10 miles before the plane exited the Greek Flight Information Region (FIR). The pilot did not respond, he said, and they continued to try to speak to him until 3.29am local time when the plane disappeared from the radar inside Egypt’s FIR.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has just said he has no new information on what might have happened to the aircraft but extended his condolences to the families of those onboard. That comes as CNN reports unnamed US officials telling them they are working on the theory a bomb could have brought down the aircraft. CNN has gone on to clarify that the officials told them it was a working assumption and they had no concrete evidence to support the theory

The multinational search and rescue effort is expanding with the UK sending a naval support vessel ship, RFA Lyme Bay, to the area of the suspected crash site. The Royal Air Force has also put a C130 Hercules aircraft, at the UK base at Akrotiri, in Cyprus, at the disposal of the Egyptian authorities.

There are some photos coming in via the Facebook page of a Tarek Wahba, who appears to have links to a cargo ship, the Maersk Sealand – one of a number of vessels that appears to be helping the search for debris. He has posted pictures of what looks like life vest

He also posted a photo that showed the position of the vessel during the search. Feeding those into Google Earth places his ships where the yellow pin is on the map below:

The French transport minister, Alain Vidalies, has announced he is dispatching a team of air accident investigators to Cairo along with an advisor from Airbus. In line with international protocols in air crash investigations, this means the French will have had an official request from the Egyptians for assistance.

This has just popped up on Reuter:

Egypt’s envoy to France said Greek authorities had informed his counterpart in Athens that they had found blue and white debris as part of its search for a missing EgyptAir plane.

“All I will say is that our embassy in Athens told us that it was contacted by Greek authorities who signalled that they found white and blue debris corresponding to EgyptAir’s colours,” Ehab Badawy told BFM television.

“I can’t confirm it is the debris, but it would be reasonable to think it is the debris of this plane,” he said.

The FT’s Heba Saleh in Cairo has what appears to be further confirmation that debris from the aircraft is starting to turn up. She has just sent this short dispatch:

EgyptAir says it has heard via the foreign ministry that floating material “likely” to be debris from MS804 was found by the Greek authorities near the Greek island of Karpathos. It said life jackets and plastic materials were also found.

It looks like there is now official confirmation that the debris found off the coast of the Greek island of Karpathos did come from the missing aircraft, says the FT’s Heba Saleh, citing an EgyptAir source.

And on that note we are going to bring an end to our live coverage here in London, as search and rescue teams continue their hunt for debris and clues.