Egyptair Flight MS804 headed to Cairo from Paris with 66 passengers and crew on board, including a Canadian, crashed in the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek island of Crete early Thursday morning and Russian and Egyptian officials say the likely cause of the crash is terrorism.
The head of Russia’s top domestic security agency, Alexander Bortnikov, said that “in all likelihood it was a terror attack” that caused the crash of the EgyptAir flight, according to reports from Russian news agencies.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s aviation minister said the possibility of a terror attack as the cause of the EgyptAir crash is “stronger” than technical failure. Minister Sherif Fathi said that he doesn’t want draw conclusions but that analysis points to terrorism as a cause with a higher probability.
Hardline Islamists have targeted airports, airliners and tourist sites in Europe, Egypt, Tunisia and other Middle Eastern countries over the past few years.
The flight departed from Charles de Gaulle Airport late Wednesday night with 56 passengers — including one Canadian — and 10 crew members on board. The airline initially said 69 people were on board.
Speaking from Paris, French President Francois Hollande confirmed the plane had crashed saying no hypothesis is ruled out.
“When we have the truth we need to draw all the conclusions,” Hollande said. “At this stage, we must give priority to solidarity toward the families” of the victims.
The company said the Airbus A320 was travelling at an altitude of 37,000 feet and disappeared 10 minutes after entering Egyptian airspace, around 280 kilometres off the country’s coastline north of the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.
Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said the plane made abrupt turns and suddenly lost altitude before disappearing from radar.
Kammenos said the aircraft was 16 to 25 to kilometres inside Egyptian airspace.
“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,” he said.
The flight disappeared from radar at 2:45 a.m. Cairo time, or 8:45 p.m. ET.
Egypt’s Civil Aviation ministry said in a statement that “floating material,” including life jackets and plastic items have been found in the sea off the Greek island of Karpathos, close to the suspected site of the EgyptAir plane crash.
The ministry says that it is co-ordinating with Greek counterparts to examine what they have found and to determine whether the items could be part of the debris from the plane that crashed before dawn on Thursday.
The 56 passengers include one Canadian, 30 Egyptians, 15 French citizens, one Briton, two Iraqis, one Kuwaiti, one Saudi, one Sudanese, one Chadian, one Portuguese and one Algerian. The airline said a child and two babies were among the passengers.
WATCH: Relatives of missing EgyptAir passengers desperate for answers
Global Affairs Canada said it was “aware of the possibility that a Canadian may have been on board the flight” and that the department was “monitoring the situation closely.” The statement added that Canadian officials in Cairo and Paris are working with local authorities to confirm this information.
An EgyptAir plane was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus in March. A man who admitted to the hijacking and is described by Cypriot authorities as “psychologically unstable” is in custody in Cyprus.
The incident renewed security concerns months after a Russian passenger plane was blown out of the sky over the Sinai Peninsula. The Russian plane crashed in Sinai on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board. Moscow said it was brought down by an explosive device, and a local branch of the extremist Islamic State group has claimed responsibility.
In 1999, EgyptAir Flight 1990 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, killing all 217 people aboard. U.S. investigators filed a final report that concluded its co-pilot switched off the autopilot and pointed the Boeing 767 downward. But Egyptian officials rejected the notion of suicide, insisting some mechanical reason caused the crash.
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