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Egyptian Military Finds Body Parts, Passenger Belongings From Missing EgyptAir Flight

The Egyptian navy is currently sweeping the area 180 miles north of the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria looking for the plane's black box. It's still not known what brought it down.

by VICE News and Reuters
May 20 2016, 11:05am

Le premier ministre Sherif Ismail face aux journalistes au Caire le 19 mai 2016. Photo par Soliman Oteifi/EPA

Egypt's civil aviation ministry said on Friday the Egyptian military had found body parts, debris, and luggage from the missing EgyptAir plane 180 miles north of the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria.

The Egyptian navy is currently sweeping the area looking for the plane's black box, the military said in a statement.

"The Egyptian navy was able to retrieve more debris from the plane, some of the passengers' belongings, human remains, and plane seats. The search is ongoing," the ministry said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos told reporters in Athens that Egyptian authorities had told him a body part had been found.

In the wake of the announcement, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed his condolences to the families of victims who were on board the flight from Paris, amounting to an official confirmation of their deaths.

"The presidency with utmost sadness and regret mourns the victims (...) aboard the EgyptAir flight who were killed after the plane crashed in the Mediterranean on its way back to Cairo from Paris," Sisi's office said in a statement.

Flight MS804 was carrying 66 people when it disappeared in a crash that Egypt said may have been caused by a terrorist attack.

No group has claimed responsibility more than 24 hours after the disappearance of the Airbus A320 that was flying from Paris to Cairo.

Related: Airliner Debris Found in Mozambique Being Investigated as Possible MH370 Wreckage

Three French investigators and a technical expert from Airbus arrived in Cairo early on Friday to help investigate the fate of the missing plane, airport sources said.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said it was too early to rule out any explanation for the disaster, while the country's aviation minister said a terrorist attack was more likely than a technical failure.

There was previously confusion over the discovery of possible debris, with Egyptian officials initially saying on Thursday Greek authorities had found "floating material" and life jackets likely to be from the plane.

However, EgyptAir Vice President Ahmed Adel told CNN later that day the wreckage had not been found.

"We stand corrected on finding the wreckage because what we identified is not a part of our plane. So the search and rescue is still going on," Adel said.

Greek defense sources told Reuters the material was discovered in the sea 230 miles south of the island of Crete.

In a statement issued by his office, Sisi also ordered an investigative committee formed by the civil aviation ministry to immediately start looking into the causes of the plane's disappearance.

Related: Greek Authorities Say Recovered Debris Not From Missing EgyptAir Flight

Officials from multiple US agencies told Reuters that a US review of satellite imagery so far had not produced any signs of an explosion aboard the EgyptAir flight.

The US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the conclusion was the result of a preliminary examination of imagery and cautioned against media reports suggesting the United States believed a bomb was responsible for the crash.

They said the United States has not ruled out any possible causes for the crash, including mechanical failure, terrorism, or a deliberate act by the pilot or crew.

Amid uncertainty about what brought down the plane, Los Angeles International Airport became the first major US air transportation hub to say it was stepping up security measures.

Related: British Man Posed for Photo with EgyptAir Hijacker While Still on Plane

Greece deployed aircraft and a frigate to search for the missing plane. Egypt said it would lead the investigation and France would participate. Other countries have offered to help in the investigation, including the United States, where engine maker Pratt & Whitney is based.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said the Airbus swerved radically and plunged from 37,000 feet to 15,000 before vanishing from Greek radar screens.

According to Greece's civil aviation chief, calls from Greek air traffic controllers to MS804 went unanswered just before it left Greek airspace, and it disappeared from radar screens soon afterwards.

There was no official indication of a possible cause, whether technical failure, human error, or sabotage.

Ultra-hardline Islamists have targeted airports, airliners, and tourist sites in Europe, Egypt, Tunisia, and other Middle Eastern countries over the past few years.

The aircraft was carrying 56 passengers, including one child and two infants, and 10 crew, EgyptAir said. They included 30 Egyptian and 15 French nationals, along with citizens of 10 other countries. A320s normally seat 150 people.

At Cairo airport, a man sat on a brown leather couch crying with his hands covering his face. "How long will Egypt live if human lives are so cheap?" he said.

The mother of a flight attendant rushed out of the VIP hall where families waited in tears. She said the last time her daughter called her was Wednesday night. "They haven't told us anything," she said.

With its archaeological sites and Red Sea resorts, Egypt is a traditional destination for Western tourists. But the industry has been badly hit by the downing of a Russian Metrojet flight last October, in which all 224 people on board were killed, as well as by an Islamist insurgency and a string of bomb attacks.

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