EgyptAir flight MS804, which took off at 11:09 p.m. on Thursday May 19 from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, was supposed to land at 3:55 a.m. in Cairo. However, it dropped off the radar screens of Greek and Egyptian flight controllers at 2:45 a.m. and crashed into the Mediterranean about 10 miles inside Egypt’s territorial waters.
The Airbus A320-232 had 66 people aboard including seven crew members, three security guards, 30 Egyptian citizens, 17 French nationals as well as citizens of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other countries. The plane, which was built in 2003, was flown by two pilots who each had thousands of hours of cockpit experience. Reports by Egypt’s airport authority said the cargo did not contain dangerous materials or anything else out of the ordinary.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said terrorism could not be ruled out, emphasizing that there were no distress calls made from the cockpit and that there were no reports showing deviation from the flight path or altitude before the plane disappeared. The spokesman of the Egyptian military, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir, confirmed in a posting on the military’s Facebook page that the pilots did not send out a distress signal.
Following the disappearance, French President Francois Hollande convened an emergency meeting Thursday morning at the Elysee Palace.
Reports on social media said that witnesses in Greece saw a large ball of fire in the sky, which may strengthen the assumption that flight MS804 carried a time bomb that was set to explode when the plane was in Egyptian airspace.
debkafile’s counterterrorism sources say that if the plane was downed by an act of terror, it would be the latest major blow by ISIS to international civilian aviation, Egyptian tourism, and the security, counterterror and intelligence services of France and Egypt.
- It is the second time in less than a year that ISIS has succeeded in using a time bomb to down a passenger plane linked to Egypt. The first one was a Russian Airbus A321 that took off from Sharm al-Sheikh and blew up over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31. All 224 passengers and crew were killed.
- One of the main questions in the investigation of the latest air disaster will be whether the explosive device was planted in Cairo or Paris. If it did happen in Paris, it would raise the question of whether an ISIS cell penetrated the ground crews at Charles de Gaulle airport. If confirmed, it would be a serious escalation by ISIS following the terrorist organization’s November 2015 attacks in Paris in which 130 people were killed and hundreds were wounded.
- A sign of an escalation was that it was the second terrorist attack within three months on a civilian aviation target in a Western European capital, following the bombing of Brussels international airport in March in which 31 people were killed and about 200 were wounded.
- But if the investigation finds that the bomb was planted on the plane in Cairo before it departed for Paris, it would mark a serious and dangerous escalation of the infiltration and operational abilities of ISIS in the Egyptian capital, and a major threat to the stability of the regime of President Abel Fattah al-Sisi.