Egyptian Officials Cite Possible Terrorism In EgyptAir Crash Investigation

May 19, 2016
Originally published on May 20, 2016 2:53 pm
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More now on the disappearance of an EgyptAir jet carrying 66 people on board. EgyptAir officials now say objects found in the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek coast are not from the Airbus A320, as they first thought. Authorities and aviation experts say it's too soon to reach conclusions about what happened to the plane as it flew from Paris to Cairo, but several tell NPR's David Schaper there's reason to suspect terrorism.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: EgyptAir flight MS804 took off from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris at about 20 minutes after 11 p.m. local time, with 56 passengers on board and a crew of 10.

IAN PETCHNIK: It took off normally. The flight continued normally, as previous flight 804s have done, flying southeast towards Cairo.

SCHAPER: Ian Petchnik is with the global flight tracking service Flight Radar 24, which uses radio signals and GPS to broadcast a plane's precise location several times a second. He says there were no signs of any mechanical trouble, no distress signals. Everything about MS804 last night seemed perfectly normal.

PETCHNIK: Speed, heading, altitude were all in line with previous flights and normal flight parameters.

SCHAPER: But then...

PETCHNIK: Over the Mediterranean at approximately 29 minutes after midnight UTC time, the aircraft transponder stopped transmitting positions at 36,975 feet.

SCHAPER: The defense minister of Greece says radar images show the Airbus A320 turn 90 degrees to the left, then swung 360 degrees to the right and plummeted 25,000 feet before disappearing from radar. Aviation safety expert John Cox...

JOHN COX: The airplane came down very quickly. The possibility certainly exists of an in-flight breakup.

SCHAPER: Cox says it's too soon to say what may have caused the plane to break up in flight, if that's what happened to the A320.

COX: It's a very proven reliable design. I flew it for six years. It's a great airplane. It has not had a history of in-flight breakups.

SCHAPER: Egypt's civil aviation minister says the possibility that this was a terror attack is higher than the possibility of having a technical failure. Richard Bloom is director of terrorism intelligence and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. And he agrees, based in part on how the plane apparently came down and because it was an Egyptian airliner.

RICHARD BLOOM: The region we're talking about is really saturated - saturated with threats of politically mediated violence, religiously oriented violence and so forth.

SCHAPER: That said, Bloom says it's far too soon to reach any conclusions. Important clues need to be found in the plane's debris and in the flight data and cockpit voice recorders - the so-called black boxes. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.