Authorities are continuing to retrieve the wreckage of an EgyptAir flight that disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday. 66 people were on board the doomed flight, MS804, when it vanished from radar and lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly after leaving Greek airspace. The first debris was detected some 290km off the coast of Egypt, north of the city of Alexandria and near to the Greek island of Karpathos.
Among them were 56 passengers – including 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, two Iraqis, and individuals from the UK, Canada, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan, Chad, and Portugal. In addition, the aircraft was carrying seven crew members and three Egyptian security officials.
Flight 804 took off from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport bound for Cairo at 23:09 local time on Wednesday (21:09 GMT), and was due to land in Cairo at 03:15 local time on Thursday morning (01:15 GMT). But it disappeared at 00:30 GMT on Thursday, just over half an hour after entering Greek airspace and following repeated unsuccessful attempts by controllers to contact the plane.
Reports indicate that Egyptian authorities have been quick to suggest that terrorism is the most probably cause of the crash, but so far no evidence has been produced to justify that theory, and it is not clear what has led officials to take that view. Security at Charles de Gaulle airport was said to have been stepped up – it was already at a high level, following attacks in Paris and Brussels in the past year – though no reason was given for the enhanced security.
Floating debris so far recovered, photos of some of which have been released by the Egyptian military, include a life jacket, fragments of metal that appear to be from the plane’s body, luggage, and even human body parts. Analysts had initially cautioned against conclusions that the body parts recovered were from the ill-fated flight, pointing out that they could very well be those of the large number of refugees and migrants making the perilous boat journey to Europe.
The flight data and voice recorders – vital in the investigation of any plane crash, since they enable officials to determine the aircraft’s final operations, and the words and actions of the crew in the cockpit – have yet to be recovered. Authorities are reportedly expecting the search for them to take as long as a month, owing to the depth and topography of the section of the Mediterranean in which the plane seems to have come down.
Data retrieved by EgyptAir from its ACARS reporting system is said to indicate that smoke was detected in the final minutes of the flight, in both the plane’s toilet and the area below the cockpit which contains the electronics that power the aircraft. Reports indicate that the smoke spread quickly through the plane, and others suggest that windows were blown out in a scenario that is said to resemble the detonation of an explosive device inside the plane.