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EgyptAir Flight 804 vanishes off radar with 66 people aboard

EgyptAir Flight 804 vanished off radar on its way from Paris to Cairo with 66 people aboard, an airline official said Thursday.

The plane was flying at 37,000 feet when it disappeared with 56 passengers and 10 crew members, the airline tweeted.

Dozens of somber family members gathered at the Cairo international airport, seeking word on their loved ones. Buses ferried them to a special hall, where translators and psychiatric support awaited.

The Egyptian navy is conducting search and rescue operations with help from Greece.

What we know so far:

Passengers on board the Airbus A320 included three children, said Capt. Ahmed Adel, a vice chairman at EgyptAir. Earlier, the airline said 69 people were on board. It was unclear why there were conflicting numbers. The flight left Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport at 11:09 p.m. local time and was supposed to land in Cairo at 3:15 a.m. Thursday. Both the departure and arrival cities are in the same time zone.

The location of last contact was 173 miles (280 kilometers) from the Egyptian coast, the airline tweeted. That contradicted earlier information provided by the airline.

The Egyptian navy is conducting search and rescue operations in the area it vanished, CNN’s Ian Lee said from Cairo.

There was no special cargo on the flight and no notification of any dangerous goods aboard, Adel said. There was no confirmation of a distress call either, he said.

The plane entered EgyptAir’s service on November 3, 2003, he added.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has arrived at the command center at Cairo airport. The airline also provided phone numbers to the relatives of family members seeking information.

The plane’s captain had 6,000 flying hours while the first officer had 4,000, Adel said.

Routine maintenance checks on the plane were done Wednesday in Cairo, before it left for Paris, an airline official said.

A distress signal was detected in the general vicinity where the flight disappeared, Adel said. The signal was detected at 4:26 a.m. — about 2 hours after the jet vanished, he said.

Adel said the distress signal could have come from another vessel in the Mediterranean. Nationalities of crew and passengers

Those on board came from various nations including France, Egypt, Britain, Belgium, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada.

Analysts weigh in

CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest said the plane vanished while cruising — the safest part of the journey.

“Planes just do not fall out of the sky for no reason, particularly at 37,000 feet,” he said.

The fact that it entered Egypt airspace and did not report in is highly significant, CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo added.

“Since they were 10 miles into Egypt airspace, they should have reported in. If anything had been going on they would have reported at that time,” she said. Experts said while it’s too early to determine what happened, the first priority is to find survivors.

“Find the plane, find the people, see if there are folks that could be rescued,” said David Soucie, a CNN aviation safety analyst.

“Safety people are looking at safety issues, maintenance people looking at maintenance issues, security people looking at security issues.” Weather conditions

Conditions were clear and calm when the plane crossed over the Mediterranean Sea, according to CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

“The area in question in the eastern Mediterranean is currently under clear skies, but computer models suggest a storm system may impact the region as early as Friday afternoon,” he said.

“Once the plane reached the Adriatic Sea, several hours into its journey, clouds were beginning to clear and it remained that way for at least another 1-2 hours before the plane’s final known location.”

If there are any survivors, there’s still a window to save them.

“The water temperatures in the eastern Mediterranean near Egypt are in the low 20s Celsius [mid to low 70s Fahrenheit],” Javaheri said.

“Survival times in such waters range from 2-7 hours for the elderly or individuals in poor health, while they range anywhere from 2 to 40 hours for healthier individuals.” (CNN)

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