MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Following the story of EgyptAir Flight 804. This morning, the plane vanished on its way from Paris to Cairo, just after entering Egyptian airspace. Greek officials, who were monitoring the flight as it passed through Greek airspace, say the plane swerved and spun sharply shortly before disappearing from radar. We're joined once again by NPR's Russell Lewis. He covers aviation. Good Morning to you, Russell.
RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Good morning.
KELLY: Things have been moving very fast this morning, as you know. A Lot of conflicting reports. I wonder if you could help us step back - big picture, put in perspective what we know, what we do not know about what happened to this plane?
LEWIS: Well, we don't know what caused the plane to potentially go down. We don't know where it is. And those are the sort of the big two unanswered questions at this point. And that's where investigators are trying to sort of zero in on. There was a press briefing by Egypt's aviation minister today who said that the crash was more likely caused by a terror attack than technical problems.
But it's hard to say at this point how he can come to that conclusion when there hasn't even been wreckage found of this plane.
KELLY: Emily Harris is in Cairo. And you were at his press conference, Emily, - is that right? - where Egyptian officials were talking about the plane and why it might have crashed.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: That's right. And Civil Aviation Minister of Egypt Sharif Fathi was talking. And he spoke for a long period of time and mostly repeated the message that he wasn't going to get to any conclusions right now. Russell's right. There was a quote that's been getting a lot of attention that he said - to not - as his response to a question - to not - he's going to try not to jump to the conclusion that it's mechanical failure. He said it may point to that.
He said, I'm saying may because I don't want to speculate. But then he said, if you analyze it properly, the possibility of this being something other than mechanical or - the possibility of terrorism is higher than a technical problem at this point. It's unclear exactly what he meant, whether that was - he was - a comment on the reliability of modern planes or whether he does have some information that he's not fully sharing about what did happen to the plane or whether he's highlighting some bit of information in his, what he called a proper analysis.
But overall, his message in this news conference was don't jump to any conclusions until we have something concrete to say, which is frustrating a lot of Egyptian reporters. And certainly families are waiting for information here, too.
KELLY: Sure, so we have officials in Greece, in Egypt, in France, in the United States - all over - weighing in. Lots of conflicting messages. So far at this point, bottom line, no evidence that this was terrorism. We don't know what it might have been. You were at the airport in Cairo this morning, Emily. Tell us what the scene was like there.
HARRIS: As an arriving passenger, everything seemed normal. My plane was delayed. Apparently, it had been late coming out of Cairo to get to Tel Aviv where I came from. But going through was smooth. It seemed very quiet. My colleague, our NPR producer here, had been at the airport much earlier at about 7:30 in the morning.
And after a couple of hours of waiting at the EgyptAir administration office there, about a half a dozen people came out who - some of them were clearly family members who had been seeking information. And he spoke briefly to one who was wiping away tears and expressed some frustration. But other than that, the airport seems to be running normally.
KELLY: OK, and we should note there were 66 passengers on board. That includes both - 66 people on board, I should say. That includes both passengers and crew, the majority of them Egyptian, others French, Iraqi, other nationalities. Russell Lewis, let me let you give us some perspective on this 'cause you've covered plenty of plane crashes for us in the past. Based on your experience, how long might it take to determine what caused this crash?
Especially in a case like this, a crash over water. We don't have the black box.
LEWIS: Sure. So, I mean, it could take years, to be honest. We might get some preliminary sort of indications in the coming weeks and months. But it certainly is going to be a long-running thing. I mean, we should point out that the absence of a distress call from the flight deck suggests that whatever it is that sent this Airbus A320 sort of plummeting towards the Mediterranean, it was sudden and it was brief.
But again, we shouldn't look into that much to say why hasn't there been a distress call? There's a saying in aviation to aviate, navigate and communicate, in that order. Meaning, fly the plane, figure out where you're at and then sort of the third thing that you should do is to talk to people about what's going on. So it sure sounds like the flight deck had their hands full with whatever it was that happened today.
KELLY: OK, thanks to you both.
LEWIS: Thank you.
HARRIS: Thank you.
LEWIS: That's NPR's Russell Lewis in Birmingham, Ala. And then we were also joined there by NPR's Emily Harris. She is in Cairo. They are both tracking events on this very sad story. And we will continue to bring you the latest as it unfolds.
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