Egyptian Military Finds Body Part, Seat, Luggage of Crashed Airliner

CAIRO (Reuters/AP) -
In this Thursday, May 19, 2016 video image released by the Egyptian Defense Ministry, an Egyptian plane and ship search in the Mediterranean Sea for the missing EgyptAir flight 804 plane which crashed after disappearing from radar early Thursday morning while carrying 66 passengers and crew from Paris to Cairo. The Egyptian army said Friday, May 20, 2016 that it has found wreckage of the missing Airbus 320 (290 kilometers) north of the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Logo in top left corner of the Egyptian Defense Ministry. Arabic in lower right reads, "from the search for the missing plane." (AP Photo/Egyptian Defense Ministry)
In this video image released Thursday by the Egyptian Defense Ministry, an Egyptian plane and ship search in the Mediterranean Sea for the missing EgyptAir plane. Logo in top left corner is that of the Egyptian Defense Ministry. Arabic in lower right reads, “From the search for the missing plane.” (AP Photo/Egyptian Defense Ministry)

Egyptian authorities found luggage, a seat and a body part during the search for an EgyptAir jet which plunged into the Mediterranean, Greece’s defense minister said on Friday, confirming that the plane had plunged into the sea with 66 people on board.

The navy said it had found the debris about 180 miles north of the coastal city of Alexandria and was sweeping the area in search of the plane’s black box recorders.

“A short while ago we were briefed by the Egyptian authorities … on the discovery of a body part, a seat and baggage just south of where the aircraft signal was lost,” Defense Minister Panos Kammenos told reporters in Athens.

Kammenos said Greece could not speculate on the reasons the aircraft crashed. He reiterated that Greek radars picked up sharp swings in its trajectory as it plunged from a cruising altitude to 15,000 feet, then vanishing from radars.

Egyptian President Adbel Fattah al-Sisi offered condolences for those on board, amounting to Cairo’s official confirmation of their deaths.

Although fingers pointed toward Islamist terrorists who blew up another airliner over Egypt just seven months ago, no group had claimed responsibility more than 24 hours after the disappearance of flight MS804, an Airbus A320 that was flying from Paris to Cairo.

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 on Thursday that it was too early to rule out any explanation for the disaster. The country’s aviation minister said a terrorist attack was more likely than a technical failure.

While there was no official explanation of the cause of the crash, suspicion immediately fell on Islamist terrorists who have been fighting against Egypt’s government since Sisi toppled an elected Islamist leader in 2013. In October, the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for blowing up a Russian jetliner that exploded after taking off from an Egyptian tourist resort. Russian investigators blamed a bomb smuggled on board.

Last year’s crash already devastated Egypt’s tourist industry, one of the main sources of foreign exchange for a country of 80 million people, and another similar attack would crush hopes of it recovering.

While most governments were cautious about jumping to conclusions, Republican candidate for president Donald Trump posted swiftly after the plane’s disappearance: “Looks like yet another terrorist attack. Airplane departed from Paris. When will we get tough, smart and vigilant?”

Many hours later his likely Democratic rival Hillary Clinton also said it appeared to be an act of terrorism, although she said an investigation would have to determine the details.

Officials from a number of U.S. agencies told Reuters that a U.S. review of satellite imagery so far had not produced any signs of an explosion. They said the United States had 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 U.S. air transportation hub to say it was stepping up security measures.

France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault asserted Friday on France-2 that there is “absolutely no indication” of what caused the crash.

The junior minister for transport, Alain Vidalies, said on France-Info radio that “no theory is favored” at this stage and urged “the greatest caution.”

Amid fears the plane was downed by an terror attack, Vidalies defended security at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport, saying staff badges are revoked if there is the slightest security doubt.