It’s a story we’re unfortunately getting all too used to hearing, but another commercial passenger jet went down overnight. Egyptair Flight MS804 went silent and dropped off radar tracking over the southern Mediterranean Sea north of Egypt last night with 66 souls onboard. It was on the way from Paris to Cairo. NBC News has the early details.
An Egyptair flight from Paris to Cairo with 66 people on board was “lost” over the Mediterranean Sea early Thursday, according to officials.
Flight MS804 left Charles de Gaulle Airport at 11:09 p.m. Paris time (5:09 p.m. ET).
The jet was about 10 miles into Egyptian airspace at an altitude of nearly 37,000 feet when it vanished at around 2:45 a.m. local time (8:45 p.m. ET) shortly before it was due to land, according to Egyptian officials.
The plane was carrying 56 passengers (53 adults and three children), seven crew and three “security personnel” which I assume are the Egyptair equivalent of air marshals. Given the high traffic nature of the Mediterranean in that area there were numerous ships within range which have already moved in to assist with the search and planes were able to reach the area quickly. Debris is likely to be found just because of where they lost the plane and the relatively mild sea conditions according to industry analysts.
The obvious question everyone will be asking this morning is why the plane went down and, as usual, it’s far too early to provide a definitive answer. The point at which ground control lost contact took place during a period which air industry experts describe as a “quiet” portion of a routine flight. The cabin crew would have been collecting any trash from passenger as they prepared for descent and the flight cabin wouldn’t have had much going on, with the anticipated descent plan already programmed in. Some early (and unconfirmed) reports suggest that radar data provided by the Greek military shows the plane possibly having made some rapid “swerves” and a sudden drop in altitude before contact was lost. But it’s far too early to draw conclusions as to whether or not those “maneuvers” took place before or after some cataclysmic event.
With all that in mind, a catastrophic structural failure can’t be ruled out, but is statistically unlikely. Anything which disabled the engines or flight controls but left the plane largely intact should have allowed the crew time to radio some sort of a message to flight control before dropping 37,000 feet. The fact that nothing was heard from the crew would lead us to believe that the “failure” was rapid and catastrophic. With the history of terror incidents in the region, particularly the loss of the passenger jet from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh airport in October, that will be an obvious target of inquiry. ISIS took credit for that one, with a small explosive charge being blamed. But – again – it’s too early to entirely rule out some catastrophic mechanical failure.
The “good news” (if there is any to be had) has to do with the weather and the location where the plane is believed to have gone down. The skies were clear and remain so this morning with no inclement weather or rough seas to hinder a search and rescue operation. NBC News Meteorologist Bill Karins tells us on Twitter that the good search weather should continue for at least the next two days. Water temperatures are in the high 60s to low 70s and authorities estimate that if there are somehow any survivors in the water they could stay alive for anywhere from 12 to 40 hours in those temperatures. Also, unlike the infamous flight which we lost near Australia, the Mediterranean is roughly 2,000 feet deep and the sea bottom is well mapped. Finding a black box and any wreckage should be considerably easier.