Flight MS804 with Egyptian flagship carrier EgyptAir has disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea, en route from Paris to Cairo with 66 people on board.
Egpyt and Greece have scrambled search and rescue teams to the southern Mediterranean to search for the plane, as French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said no cause for the disappearance could yet be ruled out.
In an Arabic-language Facebook post just before 5 a.m. local time, EgyptAir cited an “official source” as saying the flight, which took off from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport at 11.09 p.m. Paris time, had “disappeared from radar in the early hours of day.”
In a series of subsequent tweets and statements, EgyptAir said that the plane – an Airbus A320 – was carrying 56 passengers, including one child and two infants, as well as three of the airline’s security personnel and seven crew members, taking the total number of people on board to 66.
EgyptAir said that plane disappeared 10 miles into Egyptian airspace – a distance confirmed by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, according to Reuters – and that the plane was manufactured in 2003. The “aircraft commander” had 6,275 hours of flight experience, including 2,101 on the same model plane, and the assistant pilot had 2,766 hours of experience, the airline said.
Egpytian search and rescue teams were searching for the plane, it said.
EgyptAir also released a list of the passengers’ nationalities: 15 French, 30 Egyptians, two Iraqis and one person each from the U.K., Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.
French President Francois Hollande spoke to Egpyt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, according to a statement released by Hollande’s office in the hours after the disappearance.
“They agreed to cooperate closely to establish as soon as possible the circumstances of the disappearance,” the statement said. “The President of the Republic shares the anguish of the families affected by this tragedy.”
Reuters reported that Prime Minister Valls told France’s RTL radio, “No theory can be ruled out regarding the causes of the disappearance.”
Greece said, meanwhile, that it had deployed a ship and aircraft to the Mediterranean Sea to search for the plane.
Reuters cited an unnamed Greek defense ministry source as saying authorities were also investigating a report by a merchant ship captain that he saw a “flame in the sky” about 130 nautical miles south of the island of Karpathos.
The newswire reported that Greek air traffic controllers had spoken to the plane’s pilot while it was flying over Greece and that there was no report of problems.
Reuters also cited unnamed Egyptian aviation officials as saying that the officials believed the flight had “crashed into the sea.” Reuters did not refer to any evidence the officials may have that that was the case.
Ellis Taylor, an Asia Editor at Flight Global magazine, noted the disappearance at 37,000 feet was unusual.
“Accidents are usually at landing or takeoff,” he told CNBC. “Something from that height and so far into the flight indicates that something has gone quite seriously wrong on board.”
He said that the aircraft type had a good safety record.
Because the flight disappeared in Egyptian airspace, Taylor said he expected search and rescue operations to relatively quickly locate wreckage or an oil slick.
“It seems they have a good fix on where it was when it disappeared from radar. It should narrow down the search pretty easily,” he said.
A Flightradar24 spokesman said that MS804 was on a normal course that was consistent with other flights bound for Cairo from Western Europe. Data from Flightradar24 indicated the plane’s altitude didn’t change significantly in the minutes leading up to its disappearance from radar.
In October a Russian holiday jet crashed in Egypt’s Sinai region, killing all 224 people on board.
The Airbus A321, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, was flying from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh when it went down in central Sinai soon after daybreak, crashing into a mountainous area shortly after losing radar contact while nearcruising altitude.
Russia said that the plane had been brought down by a bomb, as did the U.S. and other Western governments, and the Islamic State (IS) militant group claimed responsibility. But Egypt said that its investigations revealed no sign of terrorism.
Reuters reported in January that an EgyptAir mechanic, whose cousin had joined IS, was suspected of having planted a bomb on the flight.
And in March, an EgyptAir flight from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked by a main who claimed to be wearing a suicide belt. He forced the plane to land in Cyprus, but authorities said later that the suicide belt was fake.