EgyptAir Q&A: What we know about the missing plane

Search operation under way in Mediterranean after jet carrying 66 people disappears

Aviation authorities in Egypt say they believe flight MS804 has crashed. Photograph: Christoph Schmidt/EPA

Aviation authorities in Egypt say they believe flight MS804 has crashed. Photograph: Christoph Schmidt/EPA


Do we know what happened to it?

The aircraft was around 280km (175 miles) from the Egyptian coast when it disappeared, travelling at an altitude of 11,000m (37,000ft). Initial reports were that no distress call had been issued, but EgyptAir later said it received an emergency signal from the plane around 4.26am, two hours after the last radar contact.

The plane had left Paris at 11.09pm on Wednesday night (21.09 GMT/07.09am Thursday AEST) and disappeared at 2.30am, about 45 minutes before it was scheduled to land.

The Greek defence minister said the plane made sudden swerves before losing altitude.

“At 3.39am (0039 GMT) the course of the aircraft was south and south-east of Kassos and Karpathos (islands),” Panos Kammenos told a news conference.

“Immediately after, it entered Cairo FIR (flight information region) and made swerves and a descent I describe; 90 degrees left and then 360 degrees to the right,” he said.

The Airbus plunged from 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet before vanishing from radar.

Reuters cited a Greek defence ministry source who said authorities were investigating reports from the captain of a merchant ship of “a flame in the sky” around 130 nautical miles south of the Greek island of Karpathos.

Egypt says military search and rescue teams have been dispatched to the site the plan vanished from radars. Greece also has sent one C-130 Hercules and one early warning aircraft. One Greek frigate is also in the area and helicopters are on standby on Karpathos for potential rescue or recovery operations.

Who was on board?

The plane was carrying 56 passengers and 10 crew: two cockpit crew, five cabin crew and three security personnel. The airline said two babies and one child were on board.

They were 30 Egyptians, 15 French citizens, two Iraqis and one person each from Britain, Belgium, Sudan, Chad, Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Portugal and Algeria.

What kind of aircraft was it?

An Airbus A320 – considered a safe and reliable plane. Nonetheless the model has been involved in safety incidents in the recent past, including the Germanwings tragedy in March 2015 that claimed 150 lives. It was also the aircraft Chesley Sullenberg famously landed on the Hudson River in 2009.

EgyptAir said the captain had 6,275 flying hours, including 2,101 on the A320; the copilot had 2,766. The plane was manufactured in 2003.

Airbus said it was aware of the report about the plane but otherwise made no comment.

Is there any suggestion of foul play?

Not at this stage. The aircraft passed through airports in Tunisia and Eritrea in the four journeys it made on Wednesday before the Paris-Cairo flight, but no warning flags were raised. Abdel said there were “no reported snags” from the crew in Cairo or Paris; nor was there any special cargo or notification of dangerous goods on board.

The area of the Mediterranean where the plane went missing is heavily trafficked and much-monitored, within reach of British listening posts in Cyprus, close to Israel and near to the US Sixth Fleet.

What are the next steps to revealing the aircraft’s fate?

Search and rescue teams will be currently tracing the emergency beacon apparently emitted by the aircraft around 4.26am. Should that lead them to a crash site the crews will need to recover the aircraft’s two black box flight recorders.

The water in that section of the Mediterranean can be 2,000m deep (6,500ft) – meaning that Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower could fit into two and a half times. The equipment involved in the search for MH370 is able to search depths of at least 6,000m.

If the EgyptAir A320 is the same as the Germanwings model that crashed last year, it will have two components: a cockpit voice recorder, which tapes what the pilots say, and a flight data recorder, which stores some of the around 2,500 different technical measurements in a modern aircraft.

Both are stored at the back of the aircraft and wrapped in titanium or stainless steel, to best survive a crash They are able to withstand one hour of 1,100C heat and weight of up to 227kg. The boxes can take years to be found – two years in the case of Air France flight 447, which disappeared in 2009 in the Atlantic.

What are authorities saying?

French prime minister Manuel Valls says “no theory can be ruled out” in investigating the disappearance of MS804. “We are in close contact with the Egyptian authorities, both civil and military,” he told RTL radio. “The Egyptian authorities have already sent air reconnaissance teams to the site, and France is ready to help with the search if the Egyptian authorities ask, of course.”

The UK Foreign Office could not confirm reports that a British national was on board the missing the Airbus but said it was “in urgent contact” with authorities in Paris and Cairo.

EgyptAir said the country’s prime minister Sherif Ismail was monitoring the search from the airline’s crisis centre in Cairo.