A PASSENGER jet en route from Paris to Cairo with 66 people on board swerved wildly in flight and crashed in the Mediterranean Sea yesterday in a suspected terror attack.
EgyptAir Flight 804, an Airbus A320 with 56 passengers and ten crew, went down halfway between the Greek island of Crete and Egypt’s coastline, or around 175 miles offshore, after take-off from Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said the plane spun all the way around and suddenly lost altitude just before vanishing from radar screens around 2:45am Cairo time yesterday.
He said it made a 90-degree left turn, then a full 360-degree turn toward the right, plummeting from 38,000 to 15,000ft. It disappeared at about 10,000ft, he said. There were no reports of stormy weather at the time.
Egyptian and Greek authorities in ships and planes searched the suspected crash area throughout yesterday for traces of the plane, with help on the way from various other countries.
But as night fell, the searchers had yet to find any confirmed debris, at one point dismissing a reported sighting of life vests and other floating material.
Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi cautioned that the disaster was still under investigation but said the possibility it was a terror attack “is higher than the possibility of having a technical failure.”
Alexander Bortnikov, chief of Russia’s top domestic security agency, went further, saying: “In all likelihood it was a terror attack.”
There was no immediate claim from militants that they had downed the plane but if it was terrorism it would be the second deadly attack involving Egypt’s aviation industry in seven months.
Last October, a Russian passenger plane that took off from an Egyptian Red Sea resort crashed in the Sinai, killing all 224 people aboard. Russia said it was brought down by a bomb, and a local branch of the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Yesterday’s disaster also raises questions about security at De Gaulle Airport, at a time when Western Europe has been on high alert over the deadly Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and at the Brussels airport and subway over the past six months.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that airport security had been tightened considerably before the disaster, in particular because of the coming European soccer championship, which France is hosting.
The plane’s erratic course raised a number of possibilities, including a catastrophic mechanical or structural failure, a bombing, or a struggle over the controls with a hijacker in the cockpit.
Egyptian security officials said they were running background checks on the passengers to see if any had links to extremists.
The Egyptian military said it did not receive a distress call, and Egypt’s state-run daily Al-Ahram quoted an unidentified airport official as saying the pilot did not send one. The absence of a distress call suggests that whatever sent the aircraft plummeting into the sea was sudden and brief.
EgyptAir said those on board included 15 French passengers, 30 Egyptians, one Briton, two Iraqis, one Kuwaiti, one Saudi, one Sudanese, one Chadian, one Portuguese, one Belgian, one Algerian and one Canadian.
The Briton has been named as father-of-two Richard Osman, from Wales. His younger brother Alastair described him as a workaholic and a very admirable person.
He said: “He’s a new dad. A dad for the second time now and I know that would have filled him with love and joy.”
• Anyone outside of Egypt concerned for relatives or friends who may have been on the flight is advised to call +202 25989320.