Live Blog: EgyptAir Flight Disappears Over Mediterranean
Follow FP's coverage throughout the day for live updates about the EgyptAir crash.
Early Thursday, EgyptAir Flight 804 disappeared over the eastern Mediterranean Sea while en route from Paris to Cairo, raising immediate fears that the Islamic State — which has already downed one Western airliner — may have destroyed another. Authorities have yet to give a definitive cause, but Egyptian Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy has said that an act of terrorism is “more likely” than technical failure.
Fathy’s comments were striking because Egyptian officials had waited months to acknowledge that the destruction of a Russian airliner over the Sinai — an attack claimed by the Islamic State, whose involvement was confirmed by multiple foreign intelligence services — had actually been an act of terrorism. The Egyptian move may be an early attempt to blame Europe for the potential new attack.
Stay with us throughout the day as we provide live updates about the crash.
5:20 p.m. EST: Missing EgyptAir plane, mapped.
As investigators try to determine the fate of EgyptAir Flight 804, they will likely examine the airports visited by the airplane before it disappeared over the eastern Mediterranean.
Before leaving Cairo for Paris and disappearing while on its way back to the Egyptian capital, the Airbus A320, with registration SU-GCC, completed trips to Tunis and Asmara, Eritrea.
The interactive map below charts those flights before the plane’s ultimate disappearance.
5:00 p.m. EST: EgyptAir “stand[s] corrected” that wreckage was found.
Speaking to CNN, Ahmed Adel, a vice chairman at EgyptAir, has retracted the company’s earlier claim that the wreckage has been found.
4:45 p.m. EST: Confusion reigns over whether MS804 has been found.
First EgyptAir officials told CNN that they believed they had located the wreckage of Flight 804, then Greek officials said that was not the case, and now airline officials have apparently withdrawn that claim, again according to CNN.
CNN now reports that the wreckage of the plane has not been found, contrary to its earlier reporting.
Earlier Thursday, Athanasios Binis, the head of the Greek air safety authority, told AFP that the debris found near the island of Karpathos “does not come from a plane.”
“Up to now, the analysis of the debris indicates that it does not come from a plane. My Egyptian counterpart also confirmed to me that it was not yet proven that the debris came from the EgyptAir flight when we were last in contact around 1745 [Greenwich Mean Time],” Binis told the French news wire.
4:00 p.m. EST: U.S. congressman sees political opening in MS804 crash.
In the spirit of “never let a good crisis go to waste,” a U.S. congressman is using the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 to push a piece of pet legislation aimed at preventing would-be hijackers from breaching the cockpit door and taking over a plane.
The pitch comes in the form of a letter by an aide for Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who sent it out to House colleagues on Thursday morning as details remained thin on the cause of the crash.
Exploiting a disaster or prudent planning?
You decide: “While it’s still unclear what brought down EgyptAir Flight 804, today’s headlines are another tragic reminder that aircraft are targets and remain vulnerable to terrorism,” the aide wrote. “H.R. 911 would ensure a terrorist is unable to breach an open cockpit door (like they did on 9/11/01 and can still do today) and take control of the flight deck.”
3:00 p.m. EST: McCain connects MS804 crash to Obama foreign policy.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, a frequent critic of President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S.-led Islamic State fight, emphasized Thursday he didn’t know whether a terrorist attack had brought down the EgyptAir flight — but still said he called it.
“I predicted there’d be further terrorist attacks,” the Arizona Republican told FP, reiterating his caveat: “I don’t know if this is or not.”
When asked what else the United States could or should be doing to assist Europeans, from enhanced airport security measures to counterterrorism tactics, he took a thinly veiled swipe at the administration’s foreign policy.
“We can go in and have a coherent policy and go to Raqqa and kill these people,” he said, referring to the de facto capital of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate. “That’s the first thing we should do. Then you don’t have to worry about them exporting these terrorists.”
“Baghdadi is calling people in and saying: Go to Europe,” he added, referring to Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
He finished, saying, “I don’t know, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me” if investigators ultimately conclude that the Islamic State took down the plane.
2:00 p.m. EST: Heartbreaking scenes at the Cairo airport.
EgyptAir Flight 804 was en route to Cairo when it crashed in the eastern Mediterranean. Family members of those onboard the plane have arrived at Cairo International Airport seeking information about their loved ones. Journalists on the scene who have spoken to the family members report that they have received little information from the authorities so far.
Photographer Khaled Desouki captured these tragic images Thursday depicting the family members of those onboard MS804. (Click the images to enlarge.)
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
1:50 p.m. EST: White House cautious on cause of crash.
Amid intense speculation over whether an act of terrorism brought down EgyptAir Flight 804, the White House cautioned Thursday that it has not drawn any conclusions on why the plane crashed. “It’s too early to definitively say what may have caused this disaster,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
“We have seen a desire on the part of extremists around the world, including some extremists in the Middle East, to carry out attacks targeting the international aviation system,” Earnest added.
1:05 p.m. EST: Wreckage found.
EgyptAir has said in a press release that wreckage from Flight 804 has been found near the Greek island of Karpathos.
12:50 p.m. EST: Flight data lost at 37,000 feet.
Clive Irving, who has written widely about aviation issues, writes for the Daily Beast that the point at which flight-tracking data ends indicates an explosion aboard the jet:
Flight tracking data from EgyptAir Flight MS804, showing its altitude, speed and direction, ends instantaneously while the plane was at its cruise height of 37,000 feet. This is a strong indication of the airplane being destroyed by an explosion.
If the Airbus A320 was stricken by a mechanical failure it is highly unlikely that the effects would have been so sudden, leaving the pilots at least some time to send a Mayday call. No call was made, officials say.
This means that when wreckage is located investigators will urgently be looking for evidence of blast and fire, the swiftest way of confirming that a bomb was detonated on the airplane.
12:15 p.m. EST: Another disaster for tourism to Egypt.
The crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 is likely to further dent the country’s tourism industry, a lifeblood of its economy.
This is the third incident involving an Egyptian flight in the last six months, and it’s not yet known who or what caused the plane, traveling from Paris to Cairo, to go down over the eastern Mediterranean. An EgyptAir domestic flight was hijacked in March, and terrorists brought down a Russian plane shortly after takeoff from Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in October of last year. That attack left all 224 people on board dead.
Tourism plays an outsized role in Egypt’s economy. According to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council, it accounts for around 11 percent of GDP while supporting about 11 percent of all jobs in the country. One in nine jobs in Egypt depends on tourism.
Amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring and a growing insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, the number of people visiting Egypt had already plummeted before the latest incident. In 2015, annual visitor numbers slumped to 9 million from a record 14 million in 2010.
These are just a few data points in what is becoming a downward trend. In 2014, tourism revenue was down 95 percent from 2013 thanks to accidents, political unrest in the aftermath of the 2013 revolution that unseated former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and terrorist attacks. In August 2014, 33 people were killed and 41 injured when two tour buses collided in the Sinai Peninsula. In September 2015, eight Mexican tourists were killed when Egyptian forces hunting militants fired on them. This followed a terrorist attack in August 2015, when six people were injured when a car bomb went off in Cairo. The Egyptian capital is popular with tourists.
It’s too early to tell whether terrorists were responsible for the downing of the plane, with 66 people on board and presumed dead. But whatever the case, another air disaster involving an Egyptian airline provides another disincentive for tourists to visit Cairo, the country’s beach resorts, and its famous monuments, such as the Great Pyramids.
11:55 a.m. EST: U.S. officials speculate about bomb.
CNN reports that “U.S. government officials are operating on an initial theory that EgyptAir Flight 804 was taken down by a bomb.” The network attributes that report to two anonymous U.S. officials, but one source told CNN that there is no “smoking gun” evidence to support that theory.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, counseled caution as investigators continue to gather evidence. “At this early stage of the investigation, we are unable to draw any conclusions about the cause of the disappearance and likely crash of Egypt Air MS 804,” he said in a statement. “Given the ISIS bombing last October of the Egyptian aircraft in Sharm El Sheikh, terrorism remains a very possible cause of the most recent crash.”
“We are scouring our intelligence resources to see if we can aid in the determination of what happened to the plane,” he added. “If terrorism was indeed the cause, it would reveal a whole new level of vulnerability to aircraft – not only from those flights originating in the Middle East, but to those departing from the heart of Europe and with, at least in theory, far better airport defenses.”
When contacted by FP, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the EgyptAir flight.
11:35 a.m. EST: U.S. Navy contributes to MS804 search.
The U.S. Navy has joined the search for the missing EgyptAir passenger jet, sending a P-3C Orion surveillance plane from Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, a defense official said. The aircraft is from Patrol Squadron VP-4 based out of Sigonella, took off at approximately 3:00 p.m. local time (9:00 a.m. EDT) Thursday, and “is currently conducting the search mission,” according to the official.
The P-3C is a long-range surveillance aircraft that has played a key role in U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere. The U.S. Navy has three P-3Cs stationed in Sigonella and another in Souda Bay, Greece. There are no plans at the moment to send any Navy surface ships to assist in the search, but the Navy has several ships currently in the Mediterranean, including the destroyer USS Donald Cook, and the 6th Fleet’s command ship, the USS Mount Whitney.
U.S. European Command spokesman Lt. Col. David Westover told FP that U.S. military officials “closely coordinated with the Hellenic Armed Forces, the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Greece, and the U.S. Embassy in Athens” to move the plane on short notice.
11:05 a.m. EST: No Islamic State claim of responsibility.
When a Metrojet flight out of the Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh crashed in October, the Islamic State militant group quickly claimed responsibility for downing the jet. But amid fears that another terrorist attack succeeded in taking down EgyptAir Flight 804, the Islamic State has so far put forward no similar claim of responsibility.
The New York Times‘s al Qaeda correspondent, Rukmini Callimachi, reports:
10:50 a.m. EST: Swerves, air marshals, and debris.
Speaking to reporters in Athens, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said that EgyptAir Flight 804 swerved twice before rapidly losing altitude, dropping from 37,000 to 15,000 feet. According to Greek radar data, the plane first swerved 90 degrees left and then spun 360 degrees right, Reuters reported.
Officials in the region have scrambled to assemble a search effort. According to the Associated Press, Greece has dispatched a frigate and three military aircraft to scour the area. Egypt has mobilized an F-16 and a C-130 transport plane. Several commercial ships in the area have broken off their routes to look for remnants of the plane.
A Greek military official speaking to the AP says Egyptian planes have located “two orange items” thought to have come from the crashed airliner. An unconfirmed image circulating on Twitter purports to show debris from the plane floating in the Mediterranean.
Greek authorities appear to have mobilized their search quite quickly. The plane vanished at 3:29 a.m. local time, and Greek aviation authorities have said the search and rescue operations were underway by 3:45 a.m.
NBC reports that three air marshals were onboard the crashed plane.
10:15 a.m. EST: Trump doesn’t wait to draw conclusions.
While investigators are scrambling to figure out what happened to EgyptAir Flight 804, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has already made up his mind about the course of events:
10 a.m. EST: Where MS804 was last seen.
Transponder data from Flightradar24 shows where the air traffic tracking site lost contact with the plane. The site’s data from a so-called ADS-B transponder, which broadcasts the plane’s location via satellite, shows the jet crossing into Egyptian airspace before the signal is lost southwest of Cyprus.
Top photo credit: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images