Mervit Mounir, left, and Answar Moissen, talk with journalists in front of the Egypt Air In flight services building where family and friends of the Egypt Air flight are gathering on May 19, 2016 in Cairo. (Photo by David Degner/Getty Images)
Early Thursday morning, EgyptAir Flight 804 disappeared from radar and plunged into the Mediterranean Sea. There were 66 people on board the Airbus A320 flying from Paris to Cairo, and Egyptian officials said initial surveys of the wreckage pointed to terrorism as being more likely than technical failure, as the New York Times reports.
As one might expect in a situation where facts are scant and speculation alluring, presumptive US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was quick to blame the tragedy on terrorists via Twitter. Still, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathi did say at a Thursday press conference, “If you analyze this situation properly, the possibility of having…a terror attack, is higher than having a technical problem.” Piling on, CNN aviation analyst Miles O’Brien offered, “Planes just don’t fall out of the sky.”
And presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton told that same network the crash “shines a very bright light on the threats we face from organized terror groups.”
Either way, the flight pattern and communication between pilots and on-the-ground crew suggest something catastrophic happened before the crash. The plane took off from Paris at 11:09 PM local time Wednesday night, and was last in radio contact with Greek air traffic controllers at 2:26 AM. According to Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, everything seemed to be going smoothly when, just a few miles into Egyptian airspace, the plane made a left turn at 90-degrees and then a full circle right, plummeting from 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet, and then down to 9,000 feet, before vanishing from radar.
Most passengers onboard were French and Egyptian nationals, according to NBC News. No Americans were believed to be aboard the flight, though US Secretary of State John Kerry said from a NATO summit in Brussels, “I want to express my condolences to Egypt and to all other countries impacted by the disappearance earlier this morning of the EgyptAir flight over the Mediterranean. The US is providing assistance in the search effort and relevant authorities are doing everything they can to try to find out what the facts are of what happened today.”
A statement from the White House early Thursday said that President Obama had been briefed on the situation by his adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, Lisa O. Monaco, and that he would be updated throughout the day as more information became available.
According to the Times, intelligence analysts were monitoring jihadist websites and social media, but no terrorist group had claimed responsibility at the time of publication. American officials are reportedly sharing information from a terrorist watch list with Egyptian investigators.
In October of last year, Metrojet Flight 9268 exploded in the sky over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In that case, ISIS began taking credit for the downed flight’s demise and the 224 lives lost on it almost immediately, though it took some months for Egyptian officials to concede that point.
Flight 9268 may have been brought down by a bomb placed in the main cabin, according to subsequent reports. But due to 804’s origin in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, and the increased security in that city since the bloody, coordinated attacks last November, the likelihood of an explosive being snuck onboard seemed smaller, Stratfor analyst Fred Burton told New York. Given where the flight went down, though, Burton said a surface-to-air missile attack could not be ruled out.
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