A major search is underway after EgyptAir flight MS804, operated by an A320, disappeared from radar over the eastern Mediterranean on a flight from Paris to Cairo and is presumed to have crashed.
The plane was carrying 66 people. Questions now focus on whether it was an accident or an act of terror.
EgyptAir believes it is more likely to have been a deliberate act than a mechanical malfunction, although Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, where the flight started, is known for its tight security. It has been tightened further since the terrorist attacks in Paris in January 2015 and last November.
As the BBC pointed out this morning, however, one weak point identified in recent years has been “the large number of flight-side workers who come from high-immigrant areas of the Paris suburbs. Last year there was a security review of the 86,000 workers with authorisation to go flight-side. More than 60 had their authorisation withdrawn because of fears of Islamic radicalisation.”
Before Paris Charles de Gaulle, flight MS804 had stopped at airports in the northern African countries of Eritrea and Tunisia, possibly providing earlier opportunities for sabotage.
The plane was carrying 56 passengers and 10 crew, the crew being two on the flight deck, five cabin crew and three security personnel. The airline said two babies and one child were aboard.
The aircraft is presumed to have gone down about 280 kilometres from the Egyptian coast. It disappeared while travelling at standard cruising altitude of 37,000 feet.
A Greek defence ministry source mentioned the captain of a merchant ship sighting “a flame in the sky” in the area, Reuters reported.
Those aboard included an Australian/British dual national, 30 Egyptians, 15 French citizens, two Iraqis and one person each from Belgium, Sudan, Chad, Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Portugal and Algeria.
No wreckage of the plane had been found as of noon today (Eastern Australian time). Earlier reports of wreckage discovery turned out to have been mistaken. The section of Mediterranean where the plane is believed to have come down is over 3 kilometres deep.
Egypt’s tourism industry is suffering after a number of terror-related incidents, including the downing of a Russian tourist flight last year, killing all aboard. An EgyptAir mechanic, whose cousin joined Islamic State in Syria, is suspected of planting the bomb that brought it down.
A spate of Islamist bomb attacks in Egypt have also hit tourism in the country.
In March, an EgyptAir jet flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked to Cyprus by a man wearing what appeared to be a suicide belt. The man was arrested on landing and was found to be disturbed over family matters. There was no terrorist connection and the belt was fake. See: ‘Best selfie ever’ standing next to hijacker on plane
EgyptAir was reported to have stepped up security after the incident.
The last fatal incident involving an EgyptAir aircraft was in May 2002, when a B737 slammed into a hill on approach to Tunis-Carthage International Airport, killing 14 people.
The worst incident to ever hit the airline was 17 years ago, in October 1999, when an EgyptAir B767 dived into the Atlantic Ocean about 100 kilometres south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, killing all 217 people aboard. The first officer was heard on the cockpit voice recorder saying in Egyptian Arabic “Tawkalt ala Allah,” which translates to “I rely on God.” The engines were then shut down.
A US investigation found the first officer had deliberately crashed the plane, though EgyptAir and the Egyptian government disputed the finding.
Written by Peter Needham