EgyptAir Plane Disappears Off Radar On Its Way To Cairo From Paris
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We're tracking news of EgyptAir Flight 804, which vanished from radar this morning. It was heading from Paris to Cairo with 66 people on board. That includes passengers and crew, we're told.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: We are hearing the latest this morning from here in the U.S., also from Cairo and Paris. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is on the line from Paris. Our Russell Lewis joins us from Birmingham, Ala., from where he covers aviation issues among other things for NPR. And Tamer El-Ghobashy who's a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal - he joins us from Cairo. Welcome to all of you.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Thank you.
TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: Good morning.
KELLY: Tamer El-Ghobashy, let me start with you, if I may. What is the latest we're hearing from Cairo? What do we know about what happened to this plane?
GHOBASHY: Well, right now, what we don't know is what caused this flight to disappear. And as far as it being a crash, that has not officially been stated yet. There's been plenty of conflicting information about the behavior of the flight after it took off and shortly before it disappeared.
There was initially a report that a emergency signal had been sent once the airplane had disappeared from the radar about two hours - and shortly - a little less than two hours after it disappeared, indicating, perhaps, that the airplane's emergency functions had begun to activate and that Egypt's military, which is leading the search and rescue operation, had received this signal from the aircraft, perhaps, wreckage. That was, of course, denied a few minutes later by the Egyptian military, saying they had had zero indication that there is a debris field or wreckage and that the search is still underway.
KELLY: OK. Eleanor Beardsley, let me bring you in here from Paris. We're hearing there from Cairo. Still, far more questions than answers in terms of what happened with this plane - what are the key questions in Paris?
BEARDSLEY: Well, right now, all we know is that the plane left at 11 p.m. last night, Wednesday night. It was to arrive at 3 a.m. this morning. It was at cruising altitude of 37,000 feet and had just entered Egyptian airspace when it lost radar contact. So it hadn't started descending yet. But it was nearing the end of the fight. It disappeared somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea. There were 15 French passengers on board, 30 Egyptian and various other nationalities.
We're seeing footage from the airport where they've set up a crisis cell - people being hustled away, the families of people who were on that plane. And there's also been a crisis cell set up at - in Toulouse. That's where the Airbus planes are made. This was an A320. This was - they're looking at the records. The French media says this plane had a good safety record. The Egyptian pilots were very experienced. The co - the head pilot had 6,000 hours of flying time. So right now, it doesn't look like a safety thing. But everything is up in the air. The French prime minister said nothing can be ruled out at this time.
MONTAGNE: And Russell Lewis, let's bring you in here for a moment. For airline authorities, tell us a little bit more about the protocol in events like this.
RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Well, the Egyptian government would take over the lead in trying to investigate what happened here. So that would be sort of first-up call. And as we've said, this is a - we have no confirmation of a crash. All we have confirmation of is that they lost the signal of the aircraft. And, you know, typically when aircraft disappeared, it doesn't often take long to find the debris field. Where it gets complicated, though, is when, you know, it crashes over water, it can disappear much, much faster. And so that's sort of the point of where investigators are at this point.
KELLY: Tamer El-Ghobashy, Mary Louise here, let me bring you back in. Again, many things we don't know - what we do know is this was the latest in a string of incidents dealing with Egypt. We'll remind people there was the Russian passenger jet that blew off - blew up after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh - ISIS claimed responsibility for that - EgyptAir flight that was hijacked and taken to Cyprus earlier this year, and now this story. Is it too soon to say whether there are any patterns emerging here?
GHOBASHY: Hard to say anything about patterns other than the government response to these incidents, which, initially, especially with the Russian air disaster, was criticized internationally as being not transparent and in a bit of denial by the Egyptian government. You'll recall that the Egyptian government refused to at least acknowledge the role of terrorism in it for months. In fact, the official investigation into that incident has not yet identified a cause for that crash. And yet, President Sisi, in February, surprised everyone with a public speech in which he mentioned in passing that the Russian aircraft was brought down by terrorists who, he said, were seeking to damage Egypt's relationship with Russia.
KELLY: OK. Thank you very much. We're going to have to leave it there for now. That's Tamer El-Ghobashy, Middle East and North Africa correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. We've also been speaking with NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris and Russell Lewis, all with us. Thank you all very much.
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