CAIRO – Egyptian air and naval forces have spotted a body part, passengers’ personal belongings and other debris from EgyptAir flight 804 that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, killing 66 passengers and crew who were en route from Paris to Cairo, the Egyptian army and Greek defense minister said Friday.
It is not yet known what caused the crash but some experts and officials have not ruled out terrorism as a possibility.
Greece’s defense minister Panos Kammenos said Greek authorities received notification that Egyptian authorities had spotted the body part, two seats and suitcases during their search in the Mediterranean for the wreckage of the Airbus 320. The plane disappeared off radar at 2.45 a.m. local time Thursday morning.
The debris was found around 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of the coastal city of Alexandria, Egyptian army spokesman Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir said in a statement posted on his Facebook page. The Egyptian military continued to search for further debris from the downed passenger jet, he said.
France, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and the UK had all joined the Egyptian search effort, Egypt’s defense ministry said. Authorities had been scouring a wide area south of the Greek island of Crete.
A team of Egyptian investigators led by Ayman el-Mokadam – along with French and British investigators and an expert from Airbus – will inspect what the army has found, Egyptian officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The office of Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, issued a statement expressing its condolences to the relatives of the 66 killed. It said the presidency “expressed its deep regret and sadness for the victims” of EgyptAir flight 804. “God give great mercy and host them in his heaven,” it added.
The statement marked the first official recognition by Egypt’s government that the missing plane had crashed.
On Thursday, Kammenos said that the plane swerved wildly before plummeting into the sea.
The Egyptian military said that no distress call was received from the pilot. The country’s aviation minister Sherif Fathi said the likelihood the plane was brought down by a terror attack is “higher than the possibility of a technical failure.”
Yet France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault asserted Friday on France-2 television that there is “absolutely no indication” of what caused the crash.
The junior minister for transport, Alain Vidalies, said on France-Info radio that “no theory is favored” at this stage and urged “the greatest caution.”
Amid fears the plane was downed by an extremist attack, Vidalies defended security at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport, saying staff badges are revoked if there is the slightest security doubt.
Families of the victims spent the night in a hotel in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, while they awaited the news of their loved ones. Egyptian officials said some arrived from Paris late Thursday, among them eight relatives of the 15 French passengers on board the missing jet.
Later Friday, relatives of four of the victims held prayers for the dead at Sultan Hussein Mosque in Cairo. Some of them cried as they prayed.
Among those killed were Salah Abu Laban, his wife Sahar Qouidar, their son Ghassan Abu Laban and daughter-in-law Reem al-Sebaei.
“I ask God for forgiveness. This is very hard for the family,” a relative, Abdel-Rahman al-Nasry, told The Associated Press.
Magdi Badr, a family friend, said, “we pray for the victims.”
On Thursday, officials said the plane had veered during its last moments in flight – an erratic course that suggested a number of possible explanations for the crash, including a catastrophic mechanical or structural failure, a bombing, or a struggle over the controls with a hijacker in the cockpit.
Egyptian security officials said they were running background checks on the passengers to see if any had links to extremists.
Pilot Mohammed Shoukair was experienced by Egyptian standards, with 6,275 flying hours. His co-pilot Ahmed Assem had clocked in 2,101 flying hours.
By MAGGIE MICHAEL – AP