Debris from EgyptAir Plane Crash Found in Mediterranean

This is a Jan 2015 image of EgyptAir Airbus A320 with the registration SU-GCC in the air near Zaventem airport in Brussels.  Egyptian aviation officials said on May 19, 2016 that an EgyptAir flight MS804 has crashed. (AP Photo/Kevin Cleynhens)
This is a Jan 2015 image of EgyptAir Airbus A320 with the registration SU-GCC in the air near Zaventem airport in Brussels. Egyptian aviation officials said on May 19, 2016 that an EgyptAir flight MS804 has crashed. (AP Photo/Kevin Cleynhens)

Rescue crews searching for wreckage of an EgyptAir jet that plunged into the Mediterranean Sea with 66 people on board found luggage, a seat and a body part Friday, Greece's defense minister announced.

"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, according to Reuters.

EgyptAir Flight 804 went down Thursday morning during a flight from Paris to Cairo after leaving Greek airspace. A top Egyptian official said the possibility of the crash being caused by a terror attack was "higher than the possibility of a technical failure."

Kammenos said the location of where the items were found Friday -- 190 miles north of the Egyptian city of Alexandria -- was near the area of where some debris had been found on Thursday afternoon, but authorities had been unable to identify that as having come from the missing aircraft.

The Egyptian presidency Friday expressed its "deep sadness and extreme regret" over the deaths of the 66 passengers and crew members aboard the flight -- the first official recognition of the tragic crash. Egypt's military also confirmed for the first time Friday that plane debris and passengers' personal belongings were found in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Egyptian army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir, said in a statement posted on his Facebook page Friday that Egyptian jets and naval vessels participating in the search for the missing plane have found "personal belongings of the passengers and parts of the plane debris."

Searchers had been looking at a wide area south of the Greek island of Crete for the Airbus A320, which was nearing the end of its scheduled flight when contact was lost.

The Associated Press, citing Egyptian airport officials, reported Friday that three French and three British investigators and an Airbus technical expert have arrived in Cairo to join an investigation into the plane crash.

Authorities have said it is too early to definitively determine what happened to flight 804. Kammenos said Thursday that the plane swerved wildly before plummeting into the sea.

The Egyptian military said that no distress call was received from the pilot. The country's aviation minister Sherif Fathy said the likelihood the plane was brought down by a terror attack is "higher than the possibility of a technical failure."

Flight 804 was carrying 56 passengers, including one child and two babies, three security staff and seven crew members, officials said. Fathy said identities would not be released until relatives could be contacted, but described those on board as including 15 French passengers, 30 Egyptians, one Briton, two Iraqis, one Kuwaiti, one Saudi, one Sudanese, one Chadian, one Portuguese, one Algerian and one Canadian.

Families of the victims spent the night in a hotel in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, while they awaited the news of their loved ones. Egyptian officials said some arrived from Paris late Thursday, among them eight relatives of the 15 French passengers on board the missing jet.

Later Friday, the relatives of those killed held prayers for the dead at Sultan Hussein mosque in Cairo. Some of them cried as they prayed.

Among those killed were Salah Abu Laban, his wife Sahar Qouidar, their son Ghassan Abu Laban and daughter-in-law Reem al-Sebaei.

The relative, Abdel-Rahman al-Nasry, told The Associated Press, "I ask God for forgiveness. This is very hard for the family."

Magdi Badr, a family friend, said, "we pray for the victims."

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told France-2 television on Friday that there was "absolutely no indication" of what caused the crash, while the country's junior minister for transport, Alain Vidalies, added that ""no theory is favored" at this stage and urged "the greatest caution."

Elsewhere in Paris, French authorities scoured Charles de Gaulle Airport, the country's main hub, for any sign of a security breach prior to the flight's departure. Reuters reported that investigators were interviewing officers who were on duty at the airport Wednesday night to determine whether they heard or saw anything suspicious.

"We are in the early stages here," a police source told Reuters about the investigation.

The Wall Street Journal reported that French investigators were poring over surveillance footage from the airport, as well as performing background checks of those on board the plane and anyone who may have had ground access to the aircraft.

France remains under a state of emergency after attacks by ISIS terrorists killed 130 people in Paris this past November and authorities are sensitive to the possibility of airport workers using their clearances to commit harm.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that 85 French airport workers have had their security badges withdrawn or blocked because they are on government watch lists for radicalism. Another 600 have lost their clearances due to criminal records.

On Friday, Vidalies defended security at Charles de Gaulle, saying staff badges are revoked if there is the slightest security doubt.

In the U.S., Los Angeles International Airport announced Thursday that it was stepping up security in the wake of the EgyptAir disappearance. A statement from airport authorities said they were eliminating or restricting airport worker access to 150 doors in the terminals. The statement also said additional airport police officers had been assigned to monitor employee access points and conduct random screenings.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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