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Debris From Missing EgyptAir Flight Found off Egyptian Coast

In this video image released by the Egyptian Defense Ministry, an Egyptian plane flies over an Egyptian ship during the search in the Mediterranean Sea for the missing EgyptAir flight 804, May 19, 2016.

Egypt's army says it has found debris from the downed EgyptAir plane around 300 kilometers north of Alexandria in the Mediterranean Sea.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir, an Egyptian Army spokesman, said in a statement posted on his Facebook page Friday that "personal belongings of the passengers and parts of the plane debris'' were found floating in the water.

Search teams are scouring the Mediterranean Sea, looking for the main wreckage of the EgyptAir jet that crashed into the sea Thursday as it approached Cairo on a flight from Paris. Early Friday morning, three French investigators and a technical expert from Airbus arrived in Cairo to aid in the investigation.

Egypt and Greece deployed planes and naval vessels to search for the missing plane, and French teams are expected to join the search. The U.S. sent a surveillance plane to aid in the search.

A police canine patrol stand guard inside terminal 1 at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France, May 19, 2016.
A police canine patrol stand guard inside terminal 1 at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France, May 19, 2016.

The Airbus jet with 66 people onboard disappeared from radar Thursday moments after it entered Egyptian airspace on the four-hour flight from France.

France’s foreign minister on Friday rejected widespread comments that terrorism is to blame for the crash of an EgyptAir flight, saying there is “absolutely no indication” as to what downed the plane.

"We're looking at all possibilities, but none is being favored over the others because we have absolutely no indication on the causes (of the crash)," Jean-Marc Ayrault said on French television.

FILE - France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
FILE - France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

In Cairo, Egyptian Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy said France would be responsible for any security lapse if terrorism is found to be the cause of the crash. He also again offered the theory that terrorism looms larger than mechanical problems as a possible cause of the crash.

“If it is proven that this was an act of sabotage, then we have to know and recognize that this plane originated from France and not from Egypt,” he said. No group has claimed responsibility for the deadly incident.

EgyptAir said the Airbus A320 disappeared from radar at about 2:30 a.m. Cairo time when it was 11,000 meters above the Mediterranean, and just 16 kilometers inside Egyptian airspace.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kamennos said the plane made sudden, sharp turns and went into a steep dive before its radar image vanished.

"It turned 90 degrees left and then a 360-degree turn toward the right, dropping from 38,000 (11,582 meters) to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and then it was lost at about 10,000 feet (3,048 meters),'' he said.

An Egyptian family leaves the EgyptAir office in Cairo, Egypt, May 19, 2016. (Photo: Hamada Elrasam for VOA)
An Egyptian family leaves the EgyptAir office in Cairo, Egypt, May 19, 2016. (Photo: Hamada Elrasam for VOA)

In the U.S., President Barack Obama was briefed on the latest developments at the White House. Spokesman Josh Earnest offered U.S. condolences over the disaster but stressed it is too early to say what caused the crash.

At the Cairo airport, anxious relatives of the ill-fated plane's passengers anxiously awaited news about their loved ones.

Aviation experts are warning against speculation, reiterating that at this point too little is known to draw any conclusions.

“I will say that when an airplane disappears at 37,000 feet it’s a highly unusual event," Scott Hamilton of Leeham Aviation Consultancy told VOA. "It either typically indicates a catastrophic failure, catastrophic emergency of some kind, or as we know from not too long ago, a bomb could go off ... But you just have to be cautious and not jump to any conclusions at this point.”

Hamilton explained that search teams "would be ultimately looking for the airplane's main records and black boxes (data recorders)."

EgyptAir flight 804 flight path map
EgyptAir flight 804 flight path map

Fred Burton of the U.S.-based global intelligence company Stratfor tweeted: "Mechanical failure at cruising altitude is unlikely. Such an event typically occurs at takeoff or landing."

Fifty-six passengers were on board - including one child and two infants - from France, Britain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada. No U.S. citizens were reported among the missing.

EgyptAir sent translators and doctors to the Cairo airport to meet with the passengers' families.

The disappearance has renewed security concerns months after a Russian passenger plane was shot down over the Sinai Peninsula. The Russian plane crashed in Sinai on October 31, killing all 224 people on board. Moscow said it was brought down by an explosive device, and a local branch of the extremist Islamic State group claimed responsibility for planting it.

In 1999, EgyptAir Flight 1990 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near the island of Nantucket off the coast of the U.S. state of Massachusetts, killing all 217 people aboard. U.S. investigators filed a final report that concluded its co-pilot switched off the autopilot and pointed the Boeing 767 downward. But Egyptian officials rejected the notion of suicide, insisting some mechanical reason caused the crash.

VOA's Joshua Fitzick, Esha Sirai and Steve Herman contributed to this story; additional reporting by VOA's Victor Beattie and VOA's National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin in Washington.