In first public address, Sisi states submarine deployed in search for EgyptAir MS804

An Egyptian submarine has begun to search for the black boxes of EgyptAir flight MS804 after the plane crashed into the Mediterranean Sea early Thursday morning, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated.

Armed Forces search operations have found body parts, passengers’ personal belongings and the plane’s wreckage but have yet to find the airplane’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder which are expected to prove instrumental in identifying the exact conditions leading up to the flight’s crash.

The black boxes have beacons that allow them to be located. However, it is often difficult to detect their signals underwater due to the transmission’s short range.

Sisi is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that the submarine has been provided by the Ministry of Petroleum and is capable of diving to depths of 3,000 meters.

In his first public comments since the plane crashed on Thursday, Sisi spoke at the inauguration of a fertilizer factory in an address that was nationally broadcast. The president urged the public and international community to be patient, as the investigations into the cause of the crash may be protracted. Cautioning against rash conclusions, Sisi stated: “Until now all scenarios are possible. So please, it is very important that we do not talk and say there is a specific scenario.”

This is a recap of what we know so far:

How the plane went missing

  • The missing plane took off from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport just after 11:00 pm, Central European Time, on Wednesday, May 18. It was scheduled to arrive in Cairo on Thursday, just after 3:00 am local time, as per the usual flight schedule.
  • The plane first stopped in Asmara, Eritrea before flying to Cairo. It then made a flight from Cairo to Tunis, Tunisia, returning to Cairo before flying to Paris and finally making the flight from Paris to Cairo.
  • At 1:48 am Egypt local time, Greek air traffic control transferred the flight to the next air traffic control sector and cleared it for exit from Greek airspace, according to a timeline issued by Greece’s civil aviation department. This is the last time Greek air traffic control was able to contact EgyptAir flight MS804.
  • At 2:29 am, the aircraft exited Greek airspace and, at 2:39, the aircraft’s signal was lost, approximately 280 kilometers north of the Egyptian coastline, according to the Greek timeline. After the aircraft’s signal went missing, Greek air traffic controllers initiated search and rescue processes at 2:45 am, notifying the Flight Information Region of Cairo at the same time.
  • At a press conference held on Thursday in Athens, Greece’s Defense Minister Panagiotis Kammenos stated that the plane made “sudden swerves,” 90 degrees to the left and then 360 degrees to the right, before falling, according to radar data. Greek defense sources told the Guardian that the plane conducted these maneuvers between 2:27 am and 2:29 am.
  • On Friday, a report emerged from the Aviation Herald indicating that smoke detectors and alarms sounded in one of the plane’s toilets, and may have quickly spread to the aircraft’s electronic systems. A few minutes later, all signals from the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) were reportedly lost.
  • On Friday, officials from multiple US agencies told the Guardian that satellite imagery has not shown any signs of an explosion, but added this was a preliminary conclusion after the first examination of the data.

The passengers

  • The plane was carrying 56 passengers and 10 crewmembers, including two infants and a child. Of these passengers, there were 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, two Iraqi nationals, and one passenger from the UK, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.
  • The French Embassy in Cairo told Mada Masr that relatives of some of the French passengers had arrived in Cairo on Thursday evening on an EgyptAir flight and were welcomed by a delegation from the embassy. The embassy has stated it will not release the names of the French nationals on board the flight until further information is released regarding the state of the plane.
  • Mada Masr spoke with a representative of the Portuguese Foreign Ministry, who confirmed that one Portuguese national was on board the plane. This passenger has been identified as a 62-year-old civil engineer who was due to transit in Cairo International Airport on route to Ghana for work.
  • The London-based Asharq Al-Awsat Newspaper reported that a female Saudi passenger was also onboard flight MS804. This passenger has been identified as Sahar Khoja, a 52-year-old Saudi diplomat who worked with the Egyptian Embassy in Riyadh.
  • According to EgyptAir’s Twitter account, the company’s chairman Hisham al-Nahas met with relatives of a number of the Egyptian and foreign national passengers on Friday morning to debrief them about the situation.
  • The Egyptian victims included Haitham Dedah, a 30-year-old architect who had been living in France for 14 years, was travelling home with his 18-month-old daughter, Donia. He was on his way to surprise his parents with the news that his wife was pregnant.
  • Khaled Allam, a 40-year-old relative and neighbor of the Dedah family, and Khaled Tantawy, a 30-year-old engineer, were also on board EgyptAir flight MS804. Allam, Tantawy and Dedah were from Gharbiya Governorate’s Meet Badr Halawa, which held a funeral for them on Saturday.
  • EgyptAir stated via twitter that the pilot had logged a total of 6,275 hours in the cockpit, including 2,101 hours flying an Airbus 320 – the model of the EgyptAir flight MS804. EgyptAir also tweeted that the copilot logged a total of 2,766 flying hours.
  • The victims included seven EgyptAir crewmembers and three EgyptAir security personnel, according to another tweet by the state-owned airline.

Search and rescue

  • Additional evidence has been recovered from the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday – according to the Egyptian Armed Forces. On his official webpage, the Armed Forces spokesperson posted photos of what are said to be fragments of the airplane, life vests, and passengers’ personal belongings, along with a video documenting Egypt’s ongoing search operations in the sea. The airplane’s black boxes have yet to be located. The airplane’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder are expected to prove instrumental in identifying the exact conditions leading up to its crash.
  • Egyptian reconnaissance planes and boats deployed by the Armed Forces found wreckage from missing EgyptAir flight MS804 290 kilometers north of Alexandria’s coastline early Friday morning, according to the Egyptian Armed Forces spokesperson. The air and naval forces found “passengers’ belongings as well as the plane’s debris in an area 290 kilometers north of Alexandria. The search is continuing,” according to the statement.
  • Greek state television announced on Thursday afternoon that debris from the missing plane had been found at 230 nautical miles west of the island of Crete. However, EgyptAir denied these reports on its Twitter account, saying that after contacting the relevant authorities, they were not able to confirm the news. Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy also denied the news.

Investigation

  • According to the French Embassy in Cairo, three experts from the French Civil Aviation Authority’s Office of Investigations and Accidents of the French Ministry of Civil Aviation and one expert from Airbus SAS arrived in Cairo on the evening of Thursday, May 18, to meet with the Egyptian investigation team to conduct a technical investigation.
  • On Thursday, Egypt’s prosecutor general ordered an official investigation into the missing aircraft, stating that the State Security Prosecution would lead the investigation. The French Embassy in Cairo stated that the investigation would be conducted in collaboration with French prosecution and police as the plane departed from French sovereign territory.

Official response

  • French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told French television on Friday morning that no conclusion has yet been drawn concerning the crash.
  • In a brief speech on Thursday morning, French President François Hollande confirmed that the missing EgyptAir plane had crashed and announced an official investigation into the crash in cooperation with Egypt and Greece.
  • Shortly after Hollande’s comments, Fathy held a press conference in Cairo, stating, “Allow me to use the term ‘missing plane’ until we find its remains. We don’t know why French authorities confirmed the aircraft crashed. For us, it is missing until its remains are found.”
  • At a press conference on Thursday, Egypt’s Prime Minister Sherif Ismail stated that no reasons should be ruled out for the disappearance of EgyptAir flight MS804, including terrorism.
  • On Thursday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for an emergency meeting with Egypt’s National Security Council to discuss developments concerning the disappeared plane.
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