Missing EgyptAir Flight 804: Investigations Under Way In Cairo, Paris
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's follow the path of an EgyptAir passenger jet that took off from Paris last night and never reached its destination. Flight 804 departed Paris at 11:09 p.m. Paris time. It headed on a southeast arc down towards Cairo. That would normally be just over a four-hour flight. But somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea, not long before it was due to land, the plane dropped from the sky.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
We are tracking this story all morning. And for the latest, we're joined now by NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris and by David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times in Cairo. Welcome to you both.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Thank you.
DAVID KIRKPATRICK, BYLINE: Hello.
KELLY: Good morning, hey. Can you bring us up to speed? We know that in Cairo, there's just been a press conference with the latest on this. Egypt's aviation minister said that the possibility of a terror attack is stronger than the possibility of technical failure. Did he offer evidence of that?
KIRKPATRICK: He - no. He said very little. You seem to have plucked out just about the strongest thing he said. His main point was that from the Egyptian government's point of view, almost any conclusion is premature at this point. He resisted even calling it a crash and insisted on calling it a disappearance until the wreckage is discovered.
KELLY: And that fits with what we have heard from Egypt in the past couple of incidents that have involved Egypt and planes where they have resisted conclusions early on. Based on your experience, how do you see this investigation unfolding?
KIRKPATRICK: Well, the precedent is not only that they resist conclusions early on, that they resist them for a long time. You know, the most famous episode was the crash of EgyptAir 990 off the coast of the U.S. 18 years ago. The U.S. government and most journalists and other investigators have concluded, I think with good reason, that that was a suicide by the Egyptian pilot. The Egyptians, 18 years later, are still trying to argue that it may well have been mechanical failure on the part of the Boeing airplane.
In the more recent case last October, when the world has concluded that a terrorist bomb brought down a Russian jet that took off from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt's aviation officials continue to say they're not so sure about that. It may have been mechanical failure, even though, in this case, the president of Egypt himself, in an apparent impromptu aside during a speech, has acknowledged that it was a terrorist bombing.
So they're very reluctant to reach conclusions that they feel are embarrassing or politically awkward...
KELLY: OK, that...
KIRKPATRICK: ...When it comes to aviation investigations.
KELLY: That brings us up to this morning and how the investigation is unfolding already in Cairo. Do we know what threads they're following? Do we know where it's headed?
KIRKPATRICK: I think right now they're looking for the wreckage in the Mediterranean. And that's all we've got from the Egyptian government's point of view.
KELLY: And still no sign of the plane. Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, let me bring you in. Authorities in Paris have also already launched an investigation. What do we know about that?
BEARDSLEY: Absolutely, Mary Louise. The Paris prosecutor opened an investigation this morning. And they're going to start with anyone who had anything to do with that flight at the airport. So this will be baggage handlers, anyone who came into contact with passengers or technical people for that flight. That's where it's going to start. France is also looking at sending its bureau of aviation accidents to Cairo to help with the investigation.
Now they - this bureau investigated the Germanwings crash in the Alps and also remember the Rio to Paris flight that went down, the Air France flight. So they have a strong history of investigating, you know, air accidents.
BEARDSLEY: In the next hour, EgyptAir is chartering a flight to Cairo for the family and friends of anyone on that flight. So that'll be taking off from Charles de Gaulle within the next hour.
MONTAGNE: And let me just bring us back to what we know and don't know about the last moments for this plane. Eleanor, it was actually Greek authorities that were last in touch with the EgyptAir plane. The pilot had been talking to Greek air-traffic controllers. What do we know about its last moments?
BEARDSLEY: Right, well, the Greek Military says radar tracked the plane dropping from 22,000 feet after swerving violently. And this was about 2:40 in the morning, right before it disappeared. So that seems to be the last moments. President Francois Hollande has recognized that it was a crash, basically, over the sea.
KELLY: OK, lots we don't know still unfolding this morning. That's updates there from NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. We also heard from David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times in Cairo. And we will keep bringing you more on this story as we get it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.