Egypt said yesterday that its navy had found human remains, wreckage and the personal belongings of passengers floating in the Mediterranean, confirmation that an EgyptAir jet had plunged into the sea with 66 people on board.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi offered condolences for those on board, amounting to Egypt’s official acknowledgement of their deaths, although there was still no explanation of why the Airbus had crashed.
“The Egyptian navy was able to retrieve more debris from the plane, some of the passengers’ belongings, human remains, and plane seats,” the civil aviation ministry said in a statement.
The navy was searching an area about 290km north of Alexandria, just south of where the signal from the plane was lost early on Thursday.
There was no sign of the bulk of the wreckage, or of a location signal from the “black box” flight recorders that are likely to provide the best clues to the cause of the crash.
EgyptAir chairman Safwat Muslim told state television that the current radius of the search zone was 40 miles, giving an area of 5,000sq miles, but that it would be expanded as necessary.
A European satellite spotted a 2 km-long oil slick in the Mediterranean, about 40km southeast of the aircraft’s last known position, the European Space Agency said.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said it was too early to rule out any cause for the crash.
The aviation minister said a terrorist attack was more likely than a technical failure, but offered no evidence.
Although early suspicion pointed to Islamist militants who blew up another airliner over Egypt seven months ago, no group had claimed responsibility more than 36 hours after the disappearance of flight MS804, an Airbus A320 flying from Paris to Cairo.
In October, the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for blowing up a Russian airliner that exploded after taking off from an Egyptian tourist resort.
Russian investigators blamed a bomb smuggled on board.
That crash devastated Egypt’s tourist industry, one of the main sources of foreign exchange for a country of 80mn people, and another similar attack would crush hopes of it recovering.
The plane vanished just as it was moving from Greek to Egyptian airspace control.
Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos said it had swerved radically and plunged from 37,000 feet to 15,000 before vanishing from Greek radar screens.
Officials from a number of US agencies told Reuters that a US review of satellite imagery so far had not produced any signs of an explosion.
They said the United States had not ruled out any possible causes for the crash, including mechanical failure, terrorism or a deliberate act by the pilot or crew.
Three French investigators and a technical expert from Airbus arrived in Cairo early on Friday, airport sources said.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the US House Intelligence Committee, played down comments from US figures, including likely presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that terrorism was the most likely cause.
Relatives and friends of passengers of the EgyptAir plane that crashed in the Mediterranean comforting each other after prayers at Abou Bakr el-Sedek mosque in Cairo yesterday.