CAIRO—An EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo, with 66 passengers and crew on board, crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek island of Crete early this morning, Egyptian and Greek officials said.
Egypt’s aviation minister said the crash was more likely caused by a terror attack than technical problems.
There were no immediate signs of any survivors but regardless of what caused the crash, the incident is likely to deepen Egypt’s woes as the country struggles to revive its ailing economy, particularly the lucrative tourism sector that has been battered by the turmoil in which the country has been mired since a 2011 popular uprising.
The crash also renewed security concerns surrounding Egyptian planes and airports, and brought back still fresh memories of the horrific Russian passenger plane crash in Sinai last October, when all 224 people on board were killed.
Moscow has said that aircraft was brought down by an explosive device, and a local branch of the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for planting it.
Later in the day, an Egyptian search plane located two orange items believed to be from the EgyptAir flight, 230 miles southeast of Crete within the Egyptian area of Flight Information Region.
In Cairo, Civil Aviation minister Sherif Fathi told a news conference that he did not want to prematurely draw conclusions, but that indications suggest a terror attack as more likely cause of the crash.
“The possibility of having a different action or a terror attack is higher than the possibility of having a technical failure,” Fathi said, cautioning the truth would not be known before the investigation is concluded.
Earlier, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also said a terror attack could not be ruled out.
“We cannot rule anything out,” he told reporters at Cairo airport.
Greek Defence minister Panos Kammenos said EgyptAir Flight 804 made abrupt turns and suddenly lost altitude just before vanishing from radar at around 2.45 a.m. Egyptian time.
He said the aircraft was 15-29 km inside the Egyptian Flight Information Region, and at an altitude of 37,000 feet.
“It turned 90 degrees left and then a 360-degree turn toward the right, dropping from 38,000 to 15,000 feet and then it was lost at about 10,000 feet,” Kammenos added.
The airline said the Egyptian military had received an emergency signal from the aircraft—an apparent reference to an Emergency Locator Transmitter, a battery-powered device designed to automatically give out a signal in the event of a sudden loss of altitude or impact.
The Egyptian military denied it had received 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 Mediterranean was both sudden and brief.
Exploring the possibility of a terror attack, Egyptian security officials said they were running background checks on the passengers to see if any of them had links to extremists.
In Paris, the city’s prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the incident.
“No hypothesis is favoured or ruled out at this stage,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Egypt’s chief prosecutor, Nabil Sadeq, followed suit, ordering an “urgent” investigation into the crash.
The head of Greece’s air traffic controllers association, Serafeim Petrou, told The Associated Press that everything was operating normally prior to the plane’s disappearance from radar.
Egyptian military aircraft and navy ships were taking part in a search operation off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast to locate the debris of the plane, which was carrying 56 passengers, including one child and two babies, and 10 crew members.
One Canadian reportedly was on board.