Wreckage from an EgyptAir plane carrying 66 people that crashed Thursday in the Mediterranean has been found, the airline said, as investigators probed whether it was downed by a bomb.
Egypt’s aviation minister said that while it was too soon to say why the Airbus A320 flying from Paris to Cairo had vanished, “a terrorist” attack would be a more likely scenario than a technical failure.
The incident raised fears of a repeat of the bombing of a Russian passenger jet by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group over Egypt last October that killed all 224 people on board.
Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said the plane had fallen 22,000 feet (6,700 metres) and swerved sharply twice in Egyptian airspace before it disappeared from radar screens.
“The Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation has just received an official letter from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that confirms the finding of wreckage of the missing aircraft No. MS 804,” it said in English on its Twitter account.
“The Egyptian Investigation Team in co-operation with the Greek counterpart are still searching for other remains of the missing plane,” it added.
The jet had been flying from Paris to Cairo overnight when it vanished, without sending a distress signal.
French President Francois Hollande said the plane had “crashed” as authorities in both Paris and Cairo opened investigations.
Egypt’s Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy said he could not rule out either terrorism or a technical problem.
“I don’t deny the hypothesis of a terrorist attack or something technical. It is too early,” he said.
“The possibility of having a different action onboard, of having a terror attack, it is higher than the possibility of having a technical (failure)”.
Egypt and Greece both dispatched aircraft and naval vessels on a search mission and they were expected to be joined by French teams.
Fifteen French citizens were among the 26 foreign passengers on the EgyptAir flight, who also included a Briton and a Canadian.
Both France and Egypt have come under attack by IS jihadists in the past year and Hollande promised a comprehensive probe into the cause of the crash as suspicions swiftly focused on a bomb.
“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,” he said.
– No distress call –
IS has been waging a deadly insurgency against Egyptian security forces and last October claimed the bombing of the Russian airliner flying home holidaymakers from the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said “no theory can be ruled out” to explain the plane’s disappearance.
EgyptAir said contact was lost with the flight about 280 kilometres (175 miles) north of the Egyptian coast.
A Greek aviation source said the flight had disappeared from Greek radar at around 0029 GMT.
“It crashed around 130 nautical miles off the island of Karpathos,” the source told AFP, referring to an island northeast of Crete.
Greek civil aviation chief Constantinos Litzerakos said the pilot had mentioned no problem in the last communication before the plane disappeared, and it had not deviated from its course.
“The flight controllers contacted the pilot (with the plane) at a height of 37,000 feet (near Athens)… he did not mention a problem,” Litzerakos told Greece’s Antenna TV.
Neither the Greek coastguard nor the navy could confirm reports that a passing ship had seen “a ball of fire in the sky”.
The civil aviation chief said if there had been an explosion, any debris would have scattered across a wide area.
EgyptAir Holding Company vice president Ahmed Adel also said there had been “no distress call” before the plane vanished.
– Two babies among passengers –
The passengers also included two Iraqis and one citizen from each of Algeria, Belgium, Chad, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, as well as 30 Egyptians, the airline said. They included a boy and two babies.
Seven crew members and three security men were also on board.
EgyptAir said the plane had been manufactured in 2003. Airbus said it had clocked up 48,000 flight hours.