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EgyptAir crash updates: No explosion detected by U.S. spy satellites

An EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo disappeared from radar screens and crashed into the Mediterranean Sea early Thursday. Read the full story here.

Key details:

  • The plane disappeared from radar screens almost four hours into the flight.
  • It was 10 miles inside Egyptian airspace over the Mediterranean Sea at the time of disappearance, about 175 miles from the Egyptian coast. Debris was found near the Greek island of Karpathos, but airline officials later said it didn’t belong to the missing jet.
  • 66 people were on board the plane: 56 passengers and 10 crew members.
  • Among the 56 passengers, 30 were Egyptian, 15 were from France, two from Iraq, and one each from Britain, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria, Kuwait and Canada. There were two babies and one child on board.
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EgyptAir Flight 804: No explosion detected by satellites

U.S. reconnaissance satellites did not detect evidence of a large flash or explosion aboard the EgyptAir A320 jetliner, U.S. officials said.

The officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly on intelligence matters, said the U.S. has not ruled out terrorism, mechanical failure or other issues.

But they said the initial examination of imagery and other evidence gleaned from satellites doesn’t point to a large-scale blast aboard the plane.

Signs of wreckage from the flight still had not been found as of nightfall Thursday in the Mediterranean Sea, and the White House offered its “deepest condolences” over the jet’s mysterious disappearance.

“At this time we do not yet know definitively what caused the disappearance of Flight 804,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. “The United States stands ready to provide our full support and resources to the Governments of Egypt and France as they investigate this incident.”

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More details about people on board

Among passengers on missing EgyptAir Flight 804 was a student training at a French military school who was heading to his family home in Chad to mourn his mother.

The protocol officer for Chad’s embassy in Paris, Muhammed Allamine, said the man “was going to give condolences to his family.” Allamine said the man, who wasn’t identified, was a student at France’s prestigious Saint-Cyr military academy.

Another passenger was an Egyptian man returning home after medical treatment in France, according to two shocked friends who turned up at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport.

“It breaks my heart,” said one friend, Madji Samaan.

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At Cairo airport, the families’ agonizing wait for news

Some of them were there from the start, waiting to meet their friends or family at Cairo International Airport’s Terminal 3, where EgyptAir Flight 804 was scheduled to arrive at 3:05 a.m. local time. Some were still at home, asleep, expecting their loved ones to be there when they woke up.

Over the course of the morning, they got the news one by one — the plane had disappeared. Then they waited, in painful uncertainty, for something more, without receiving any clear answers.

“We don’t know anything. We don’t understand. We don’t know what happened to the plane,” said the mother-in-law of one of the security personnel on board the plane.

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Airline officials backtrack, now say plane wreckage has not been found

EgyptAir officials now say they were mistaken when they announced earlier today that wreckage from EgyptAir Flight 804 was found near the Greek island of Karpathos.

“We stand corrected on finding the wreckage,” EgyptAir vice president Ahmed Adel told CNN.

The debris found -- reportedly including life vests and pieces of plastic -- “were not part of our plane,” he said.

The search is ongoing, Adel said.

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U.S. intelligence still searching for clues

U.S. intelligence officials are combing through satellite imagery, communications intercepts and passenger records for clues that might explain the downing of an EgyptAir jetliner in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said analysts are checking a series of classified databases.

“We are going through our intelligence holdings to determine, do we have any images of what happened to the plane, do we have any signals intelligence; we are looking at terrorism lists,” he said in a telephone interview.

“It does look like the aircraft broke apart in midair,” Schiff said. “At this point we don’t have the evidence to confirm this was terrorism or a structural problem with the aircraft.”

If terrorists are to blame, Islamic State “is a leading candidate,” Schiff said.

But intelligence officials can’t rule out Al Qaeda, he added. The terrorist network that launched the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has repeatedly tried to bring down other passenger aircraft.

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Victim identified: British geologist Richard Osman

Richard Osman, a geologist who was traveling to Cairo on business, was among those on the EgyptAir flight, according to British media.

The 40-year-old reportedly grew up in Wales but lived in Jersey in the British Channel Islands. He was married, with a 2-year-old daughter.

His work involved frequent travel and he was reportedly flying on EgyptAir Flight 804 to work for a gold mining company in Egypt.

The BBC said his father was a doctor who moved to Wales from his native Egypt to work as a consultant in ear, nose and throat surgery.

He was the eldest of three siblings.

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Expert: Jets don’t plunge from 37,000 feet ‘without human intervention’

Planes do not drop out of the sky from 37,000 feet “without human intervention,” said aviation expert Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, a Virginia-based aerospace research firm.

That was the altitude at which the missing EgyptAir jet was flying over the Mediterranean Sea when air controllers lost contact with it No mayday call was issued.

“You have to go back decades to find anything at that altitude happening without human intervention,” Aboulafia said.

The plane reportedly turned 90 degrees to the left and then turned to the right a full 360 degrees before dropping.

“The biggest possibility is an onboard struggle, and the second is some kind of explosion or device going off, followed by a struggle to gain control of the plane,” Aboulafia said of the reported turns.

Aboulafia said Airbus 320s are reliable aircraft and among the most common planes used in air travel. The plane that is missing went into service in 2003, which is not that old for a jet.

“That’s a sweet spot. It was nowhere near being toward the end of its life. It’s a classic young middle-aged aircraft,” Aboulafia said. “There’s absolutely no reason for it do this unless there was an onboard struggle or an explosion.”

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U.S. investigators leaning toward possibility of terrorist attack

A senior U.S. law enforcement official, who has been briefed on the crash, said authorities are leaning toward a terrorist act but say it’s too soon to say what brought down the plane.

Authorities are examining several potential reasons other than an unexplained mechanical failure. The working theories all have questions that may not be answered until investigators examine the wreckage and retrieve the cockpit voice and data recorders.

A few of those theories:

  • A bomb may have exploded inside the aircraft, but an explosion at 37,000 feet likely would have caused disintegration of the plane. Radar returns suggest the jet remained intact until at least reaching 10,000 feet.
  • A hijacker may have tried to commandeer the aircraft, resulting in a struggle in the cockpit. That might explain why the plane reportedly veered sharply left, and then again to the right, before it began to fall. But that situation probably would have generated a distress call.
  • It’s also possible that a pilot may have tried to commit suicide by intentionally crashing the plane, the cause of several crashes in the past.
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Debris found near Greek island of Karpathos, airline officials say

Debris likely belonging to the missing EgyptAir jet has been found floating in the waters near the Greek island of Karpathos, airline officials tweeted.

Greek officials found debris including life jackets and some plastic materials, the airline tweeted in Arabic, citing a report from Egypt’s foreign ministry.

Karpathos is about 40 miles east of Crete.

“We have found the wreckage, we can confirm the wreckage has been found,” a vice president for EgyptAir told CNN.

A civilian searcher, reported to be the captain of the Maersk Ahram container ship, had previously posted images on Facebook that showed what appeared to be a life jacket floating in the sea, plus other images of the search area.

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Families of EgyptAir passengers gather at Cairo airport

Family and friends of passengers on the EgyptAir flight were taken to a service building, set apart from the main part of Cairo International Airport and normally reserved for crew and operations, to wait for news about their loved ones.

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White House: U.S. assistance offered in crash investigation

President Obama was being briefed on developments with the EgyptAir crash, and the U.S. has offered help investigating its cause, the White House said Thursday.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said it was too early to definitively say what might have caused the disaster, and that investigators “will consider all the potential factors” that could have contributed to it.

Earnest was careful not to name a cause but noted that extremists have a well-known desire to carry out attacks targeting the international aviation system.

To that end, U.S. agencies have upgraded security over the last two years at foreign airports where U.S.-bound flights originate, he said, which would include the Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris, where the EgyptAir flight took off.

“The United States has successfully worked with airports across the country to ensure that international flights that arrive in the United States are subject to more exhaustive security procedures,” Earnest said.

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EgyptAir can’t confirm if any wreckage has been found

EgyptAir officials pushed back against reports suggesting searchers had found wreckage from the crashed Airbus A320.

A Greek military official had previously told Agence France-Presse that a search plane found two large red-and-white plastic objects floating in the Mediterranean Sea about 230 miles southeast of Crete.

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U.S. Navy joins search effort

The U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet, based in Naples, Italy, is working with a joint rescue coordination center in Greece and has provided a P-3 Orion submarine-hunting aircraft to help search for the missing Egyptian airliner.

The P-3, a four-engine turboprop patrol aircraft, took off from Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily at about 2 p.m. local time. The plane carries advanced radar and electronic sensors to detect surface targets, and can deploy sonar systems to receive signals from below the surface.

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Crash victims’ families en route to Cairo

An EgyptAir flight carrying around a dozen relatives of crash victims is on its way from Paris to Cairo. The flight is scheduled to land in Egypt around 8.30 p.m. local time.