There are conflicting reports this morning about whether wreckage from EgyptAir flight MS804, which disappeared over the Mediterranean yesterday, has been found.
While Greek and Egyptair authorities earlier claimed that the plane’s wreckage had been found near the island of Karpathos, both have since retracted the claim.
“We stand corrected,” Egyptair vice-president Ahmed Adel has told CNN. The wreckage “is not our aircraft”.
The retraction now puts EgyptAir in line with Greek officials, who had earlier cast doubt on the claim by Egyptian authorities. Neither the airline nor Egypt’s foreign ministry have yet made a public statement.
Earlier on Thursday Athanasios Binis, the head of Greece’s air safety authority, has told the AFP, the debris found near Karpathos island “does not come from a plane”.
Greek authorities say the plane made two sharp turns and dropped more than 25,000 feet before disappearing from radar screens.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has said authorities can’t rule out any explanation – including terrorism – for the apparent crash of an Egyptair plane en route from Cairo to Paris.
Meanwhile US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said terrorists were likely to have brought down the plane. Egypt’s Civil Aviation Authority Minister Sherif Fathy agreed with the terrorism theory.
A Greek navy crew and residents on a small island reported seeing a “flame in the sky” after flight MS804 disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea carrying 56 passengers and 10 crew, including one child and two infants overnight (Australian time).
There are reports that two pieces of floating debris have been found near the island of Crete. The objects appeared to be pieces of plastic in white and red.
“Search operations are ongoing at this time for the airplane in the area where it is believed to have lost contact,” Mr Ismail told reporters at Cairo airport on Thursday.
Asked by a journalist if he could rule out terrorism as a cause, the Prime Minister replied: “We cannot exclude anything at this time or confirm anything. All the search operations must be concluded so we can know the cause.”
The plane lost contact with radars at 2.30am Cairo time (10.40am Thursday AEDT), just three hours and 45 minutes into the flight.
According to Egyptair, there were no Australian passengers, but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was yet to confirm this.
“Embassies in Cairo and Paris making urgent enquiries to determine whether any Australians are on board the missing EgyptAir flight MS804,” DFAT said in a statement.
The Airbus A320 left Paris about 11pm local time and was at 37,000ft when it lost contact from a location 16km inside Egyptian airspace. It was supposed to land in Cairo about 3.15am.
Contrary to initial reports, Egyptian authorities said no distress signal was received.
Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said in a statement it was too early to confirm if the plane had crashed, although some officials had confirmed off-the-record it was believed to be the case.
There were 15 French passengers on the plane. In a speech on Thursday, President Francois Hollande said the plane had “crashed”.
“Unfortunately the information we have … confirms to us that the plane came down and is lost,” he said.
“Whether it was an accident or another hypothesis that everyone has on their mind, a terrorist hypothesis … at this stage we must focus on our solidarity with the families and the search for the causes of the catastrophe.
“We feel solidarity and compassion. It’s not the first such catastrophe, and we know what it means for families and loved ones.”
Greek authorities reportedly deployed two aircraft, a frigate and helicopters to search for the aircraft. As of Thursday night, there were initial reports that debris believed to belong to the plane had been located by this search team.
‘They just vanished’
There is as yet no official explanation for the plane’s disappearance.
The head of Egypt’s air navigation authority Ehab Mohy el-Deen said they could not speculate, but said “this is not normal, of course”.
“They did not radio for help or lose altitude. They just vanished,” he told The New York Times.
There were 30 Egyptians, 15 French, two Iraqis, and one each from Britain, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada on board.
Rescue teams and search crews had arrived at the area where the plane last registered contact.
“Search and rescue has been dispatched and are now at the scene,” Egyptair holding company vice-chairman Ahmed Abdel told CNN.
“Daylight has just broken around an hour ago, so we should get some information within the next hour.”
The pilot had completed more than 6200 hours in the air, including more than 2000 in an A320, while the co-pilot had about 2700.
Ahmed Adel, vice chairman of EgyptAir’s parent company, told CNN the plane had “no snags” arriving in Paris or when it departed for Cairo.
He said there was no special cargo on the flight and no notification to the captain of any dangerous goods.
He added: “We did not confirm if there was a distress call. It just lost contact and we lost it on the radar of the air traffic controllers.”
An emergency response room has been set up at the Integrated Operations Control Centre at Cairo Airport.
EGYPTAIR crisis center is following up with the concerned authorities and EGYPTAIR will issue any additional information once available.
— EGYPTAIR (@EGYPTAIR) May 19, 2016
EGYPTAIR has hosted the passengers’ families near to Cairo Airport and has provided doctors, translators and all the necessary services.
— EGYPTAIR (@EGYPTAIR) May 19, 2016
– with AAP
– More to come.