EgyptAir Officials Gather Clues About Plane's Disappearance
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We're following the story this morning of the EgyptAir Flight 804. The plane vanished on its way to Cairo from Paris just after entering Egyptian airspace. Officials in Greece monitoring that flight as it passed through Greek airspace say the plane fell 22,000 feet, spinning sharply before disappearing from the radar. Egyptian and French officials have offered condolences for the loss of their citizens.
And for more about what we know and what we don't know, we're joined once again by NPR's Eleanor Beardsley on the line now from Paris. Also with us now is H.A. Hellyer. He's an analyst at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council in Cairo. Good morning to you both.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Good morning. Hello, Mr. Hellyer. We're having problems, I guess, with that connection. But let's start with you in any event, Eleanor. Update us on the newest information that we have on the last known whereabouts of that plane.
BEARDSLEY: Well, right, Renee. Well, the plane was just at the end, almost completing its four-hour flight from Paris to Cairo. It left at 11 p.m. out of Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was to arrive at 3 a.m. It had just entered Egyptian airspace. It was at - still at cruising altitude, 37,000 feet. It had not started descending. And that's when it disappeared from radar screens at 2:30 a.m. local time. And that was somewhere right over the Mediterranean Sea, about 20 miles off of the Egyptian coast.
MONTAGNE: All right. So not a lot is known yet, but we're compiling bits of information, some of it more dependable than others, over the course of the morning. What about the plane itself?
BEARDSLEY: This plane - Airbus - there's crisis cells set up at, you know, the airport in Cairo and Paris, and also at Airbus in Toulouse, France. This is an Airbus A320. This plane is known as a workhorse. There are 6,000 - almost 7,000 of these planes still flying. This is an incredible number. Ten billion people have ridden in this plane. It's a very reliable plane. This specific plane had been maintained. It was in good shape. It was fairly new. It was delivered in 2003.
So of course we're looking at, you know, the hypothesis of a breakdown, a technical problem, but we just - the authorities don't know yet. The pilots were said to be experienced. The head pilot had 6,000 flying hours. So they're looking at all of these things, but nothing is known yet.
MONTAGNE: OK, and we have H.A. Hellyer back on the line with us now. Let me just ask you - this disappearance of a plane comes after a couple of recent losses of planes over Egypt. This particular plane was barely - just moments in Egypt airspace. But Egypt has been criticized for its handling of these events. What is going on there about this? And are any connections being made?
H A HELLYER: Well, I think it's rather soon for anybody to come to conclusions on this. The other two examples that you draw on - one is the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai last year. Egypt was criticized for not being fully forthcoming and transparent about the investigation. When it came to the second incident - it was a hijacking, which fortunately led to nobody being hurt, of a plane between Cairo and Cyprus and being forced to land in Cyprus. And it seems that the gentleman who - the hijacker suffered some - had some sort of mental problems apparently.
This case, on the other hand, seems to be rather different in that the plane seems to have gone down just within Egyptian airspace on a flight coming from Paris. There's no evidence as of yet - that may change by the end of the day, but there's no evidence as of yet of any foul play. But certainly, it seems to have happened very suddenly, very erratically in terms of the swerving of the aircraft in midair, and no record or any confirmation of any voice communication from the plane to anywhere else.
So certainly, that's raising certain questions. As of yet, EgyptAir seems to have responded quite quickly. It's updating everybody in the press and so on. Although today - sorry, in the last hour or so we've seen some frustration from families in Cairo Airport wanting to have further information and simply not getting it. That might be unavoidable. But when - by - over the next few hours, I think we'll see more.
MONTAGNE: OK, well, thank you. And just very briefly, Eleanor, tightening of security there in Paris at this point?
BEARDSLEY: Renee, security was already so tight. The French Parliament actually just extended the emergency - state of emergency in France. I don't think you could have any more soldiers and police on the street. And Charles de Gaulle Airport was extremely secure. But as security analysts are reminding us, you cannot ensure 100 percent security.
MONTAGNE: And H.A. Hellyer there in Egypt, again, briefly - security being tightened?
H A HELLYER: Security has been tightened over the last two months as a result of the Russian airliner having gone down. And a number of countries have actually stopped flights going to Sharma el-Sheikh until they're satisfied about security. But Germany has just started flights again going to Sharma el-Sheikh...
MONTAGNE: All right.
H A HELLYER: ...And other countries as well. But again, there's no evidence...
MONTAGNE: Got it.
H A HELLYER: ...To suggest that this was actually anything on the Egyptian side as of yet.
MONTAGNE: All right, we're going to have to leave it at that, sorry. H.A. Hellyer in Cairo, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.