It is believed to have crashed in the Mediterranean with 66 people on board

By Nash Jenkins / Time
May 19, 2016
Credit: Getty Images

Shortly before 5 a.m. Thursday in Cairo — around 11 p.m. Wednesday on the east coast of the U.S. — Egypt’s flag carrier EgyptAir announced that one of its planes, an Airbus A320 en route from Paris to the Egyptian capital, had disappeared from radar screens over the Mediterranean Sea. It had been scheduled to land at 3:15 a.m. local time. Francois Hollande, the President of France later confirmed in a press conference that the plane had crashed but could offer no explanation as to how.

Here’s what we know about EgyptAir Flight MS 804 so far:

1. The flight vanished at high altitude.

When radar lost track of it at around 2:30 a.m. Cairo time, MS 804 was at a height of 37,000 ft., according to tweets posted by the airline. It had crossed into Egyptian airspace about ten minutes earlier.

The Greek Defense Minister has said that the aircraft made “sudden swerves” before dropping from 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet and disappearing from radar, according to Reuters.

2. It is believed to have crashed in the Mediterranean.

A merchant ship captain reportedly saw a “flame in the sky” south of Greece. EgyptAir said a ping, possibly from the plane’s emergency devices, was picked up just before 4:30 a.m, about two hours after it disappeared from radar. (When a plane crashes in water, an “underwater locator beacon” fixed to the aircraft’s flight recorder will automatically deliver a distress signal, which helps search teams find the crash.)

The Associated Press reports that the director of Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority says air traffic controllers were in contact with the pilot of the EgyptAir flight as it passed through Greek airspace.

The director, Konstantinos Lintzerakos, said the plane was at 37,000 feet, traveling at 519 mph, and did not report any problem.

"Lyzerakos told private Antenna television that controllers tried to make contact with the pilot 10 miles before the flight exited the Greek Flight Information Range (FIR), but the pilot did not respond. Lyzerakos says controllers continued trying to contact the pilot until 3:39 a.m. Greek time (1239 GMT) when the plane disappeared from the radar.

Lyzerakos says the plane was in Cairo’s FIR when it vanished."

3. Debris found that could belong to EgyptAir flight

AP reports that a Greek military official says an Egyptian search plane has located two orange items believed to be from the missing EgyptAir flight.The official says the items were found 230 miles (370 kilometers) south-southeast of the island of Crete but still within the Egyptian air traffic control area. One of the items was oblong, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with regulations.

Tarek Wahba, the captain of the Maersk Ahram, which is involved in the search for the EgyptAir, posted pictures of a yellow object floating in the Mediterranean Sea.

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4. Flight MS 804 was the plane’s fifth trip of the day.

Before it crashed, the plane had stopped in three cities aside from Paris: Cairo, the Eritrean capital of Asmara and the Tunisian city of Carthage. It left Asmara at 2:13 a.m. on Wednesday morning, headed to Cairo, and then at 6:20 a.m. flew to Carthage, the airport site for Tunisia’s capital Tunis, before returning to Cairo again. Then it headed to Paris, before turning around on the final, doomed Flight MS 804.

5. It was a smaller commercial jet, and only half full.

There were 66 people aboard the Airbus A320, a narrow-body passenger jet that canseat about 145 passengers. The larger Airbus A330, which EgyptAir uses on its other Paris-Cairo flights, holds more than twice that.

6. The passenger manifest was internationally diverse.

Thirty of the flight’s passengers were Egyptian, 15 were French, two were from Iraq, and there was one passenger each from the U.K., Belgium, Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Chad, and Sudan, according to tweets from EgyptAir. Crisis centers have been set up in Paris and Cairo for loved ones and relatives of passengers.

7. A search mission is under way.

The Egyptian and Greek military have scrambled jets and boats to look for debris, though as of 10 a.m. local time, no updates had been reported. French authorities have offered assistance. According to AP:

"The French military says a Falcon surveillance jet monitoring the Mediterranean for migrants has been diverted to help search for an EgyptAir flight that crashed in the area.

Military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron told The Associated Press that the jet is joining the Egypt-led search effort, and the French navy may send another plane and a ship to the zone.

He said the Falcon was on a surveillance mission as part of EU efforts to monitor migrants crossing the Mediterranean toward Europe.

The French government has offered military help to find the plane, en route from Paris to Cairo when it disappeared."

8. Some are speculating that it was terrorism.

There were no documented red flags prior to the flight’s disappearance: the weather in the area was good and Greek aviation officials said that the pilots did notmention any issues. Because of this, some security analysts are suggestingthat a sudden act of terrorism might have downed the plane. The circumstances echo those surrounding MetroJet Flight 9268, the Russian commercial plane that blew up over the Sinai Peninsula last October, killing all on board.

With reporting by Vivienne Walt / Paris