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EgyptAir plane crashes into Mediterranean with 66 aboard

Cairo, May 19 (IANS) An EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo with 66 people on board crashed into the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday. While a search and rescue operation was under way, Russia said terror attack could be the reason for the crash.

French President Francois Hollande confirmed the Airbus A320 passenger plane had crashed.

“It is feared that this plane has crashed. The information that we have managed to gather confirm alas that this plane has crashed, and it has disappeared,” Hollande in a televised presser.

The French president said “no hypothesis” could be ruled out on the causes of the crash.

The Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said terror attack could be the reason for the EgyptAir crash.

“Unfortunately, today there was another incident with an Egyptian Airlines plane. Apparently, it is a terrorist attack, which killed 66 people from 12 countries,” Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), was cited as saying by TASS.

The FSB chief urged “all concerned parties, including our partners in Europe, to undertake joint measures to identify the persons involved in this heinous act”.

The Greek Defence Ministry said the plane made “sudden swerves” just before going off radar.

“At 03.39 a.m. the course of the aircraft was south and southeast of Kassos and Karpathos (islands) … immediately after it entered Cairo FIR and made swerves and a descent I describe — 90 degrees left and then 360 degrees to the right,” Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told a news conference.

EgyptAir has published information about the nationalities of the 56 passengers. It lists 30 Egyptians, 15 French, two Iraqis and one citizen each from Britain, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.

The Egyptian crew included two cockpit crew, five cabin crew and three security officers.

French and Egyptian authorities offered their assistance to family members of the passengers and crewmembers of the plane. EgyptAir provided a plane to fly relatives from France to Egypt, while an emergency centre was opened at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

A search and rescue operation involving Egyptian, Greek and French military aircraft and ships and a number of civilian vessels was under way in the southern Mediterranean. Hours into the operation, the Greeks reportedly found two objects floating in the sea 50 miles southeast of the area where the plane had dropped off radar.

EgyptAir described the captain of the plane as experienced, with over 6,275 flying hours, including 2,101 hours flying Airbus 320s, while his co-pilot has 2,766 hours. The aircraft was manufactured in 2003.

The manufacturer Airbus also expressed concern and offered assistance to the investigators.

“Our concerns go to all those affected,” a spokesperson said. “In line with ICAO annex 13, Airbus stands by ready to provide full technical assistance to French Investigation Agency – BEA – and to the authorities in charge of the investigation.”

The Airbus A320 passenger airliner took off from Paris on Wednesday night at 11.09 p.m. and was expected to land in Cairo on Thursday morning at 3.15 a.m. It lost contact with the radar at 2.45 a.m.

A major search and rescue operation was under way involving the Greek and Egyptian armed forces.

EgyptAir said the plane was flying at 37,000ft when it disappeared from radar shortly after entering Egyptian airspace.

Greek aviation officials said its air traffic controllers had spoken to the pilot a few minutes earlier and everything had appeared normal.

There was also some confusion over whether a distress signal was sent out by the plane crew.

Egypt’s state-run daily al-Ahram quoted an EgyptAir statement as saying the Egyptian army’s rescue and search had received a distress call from the plane.

But Egypt’s military subsequently said that no such signal was received.

Flight tracking group Flightradar24 listed details of the plane’s earlier journey on Wednesday which showed it had flown from Asmara, in Eritrea, to Cairo, then on to Tunis, in Tunisia, before heading, via Cairo, to Paris.

In March, an EgyptAir domestic flight MS181 from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked in mid-air by one of the passengers and diverted to Larnaca, Cyprus, with 81 people on board. After a six-hour standoff, the hijacker, Seif Eldin Mustafa, released the passengers and crew, and surrendered to Cypriot police.

Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport has seen hundreds of flights to, from and over Paris cancelled due to an ongoing strike by air traffic controllers and ground staff. They are taking part in a nationwide strike to protest the new labour reform proposed by the French government that, they say, takes away workers’ rights.

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