Search crews yesterday found human remains, luggage and passenger seats from the EgyptAir plane that fell out of the sky over the Mediterranean Sea, as investigators tried to determine whether the disaster was the work of terrorists.
With no bodies to bury, relatives and friends of some of the 66 people on board held special prayers in mosques for the lost.
But the mystery remained over why the Airbus A320 – which had been cruising normally in clear skies on a nighttime flight from Paris to Cairo early on Thursday – suddenly lurched left and then right and plummeted into the sea, without issuing a distress signal.
Egyptian authorities said they believe it may have been an act of terrorism, as have Russian officials and some aviation experts, but so far no hard evidence has emerged.
No militant group has claimed to have brought down the aircraft, in contrast to the downing of a Russian jet in October over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that killed 224 people. In that case, the Islamic State issued a claim of responsibility within hours.
Three European security officials said the passenger manifest for EgyptAir Flight 804 contained no names on terrorism watch lists.
The tragedy has fuelled suspicions of terrorism, especially in light of the bombing of the Russian plane and the recent extremist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Some aviation experts have said the circumstances suggest a bomb blast.
Experts said answers will come only with examination of the wreckage and the plane’s black box recorders. But retrieving them may take time. The water is 8,000 to 10,000 feet deep in the area where the plane is thought to have gone down, roughly halfway between Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria and the Greek island of Crete.
Yesterday brought the first confirmation of debris from the crash. The Egyptian army said it found debris around 180 miles north of Alexandria, and that it was searching for more. EgyptAir said luggage and seats were found, as well as body parts.
France, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Britain have joined the search, which encompasses a wide area south of Crete. Investigators from Egypt, France and Britain as well from Airbus will examine everything found in the search, Egyptian officials said.
In Egypt – home to 30 of those on the flight – civil aviation minister Sherif Fathi informed relatives there were no survivors, the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper said.
In several mosques around the Egyptian capital, families and friends of the victims held what is known as “Salat al-Ghaib,” Arabic for “prayers for the absent.” Those are held for the dead when there is no body.