TURKEY EGYPTAIR MISSING PLANE.jpg
Photograph: EPA/CHRISTOPH SCHMIDT

Egypt and Greece were searching Thursday for an Egyptair plane that went missing while travelling from Paris to Cairo with 66 people on board, authorities said.

"Search operations are under way in the area where the aircraft has disappeared," an Egyptian army spokesman said in a statement, while Greece said it had sent two aircraft and a ship to look for the Airbus A320 in the Mediterranean Sea.

Egyptian civil aviation officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, earlier said that Egyptair Flight MS804 had crashed into the Mediterranean after an initial search showed it had not landed at any nearby airport.

But Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy denied the plane had crashed.

"The plane crash cannot be confirmed. So far, the status of the aircraft is that it has gone missing," Fathy said in television remarks in Cairo.

He also retracted an earlier statement by Egyptair that the Egyptian military search teams received a distress call from the emergency mechanisms of the plane almost two hours after its departure from Paris.

The minister was to give a press conference at the headquarters of the Civil Aviation Ministry in Cairo at 1:30 pm (1130 GMT).

The plane disappeared from radar while flying at the height of 36,000 feet at 2:30 am local time (0030 GMT), some 45 minutes before it was expected at Cairo airport, Egyptair said.

The jet carrying 56 passengers, seven crew members and three security officers took off from Charles de Gaulle Airport in the French capital late Wednesday, the Egyptian national carrier said.

The passengers included 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, two Iraqis and one each from Britain, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada, according to the airline.

Three children were on board, it said.

The pilots did not contact Greek aviation authorities after leaving Greek airspace, the head of the country's civil aviation authority told Greek broadcaster Skai.

"When they initially flew over the island Kea, they made normal contact and did not mention any problems," Konstantinos Lintzarakis said.

The aircraft subsequently flew through Greek airspace towards Egypt, but the pilots did not again make contact - as is customary - when they left Greek airspace south of the Greek island of Karpathos and south-east of Crete.

The aircraft then disappeared from the radar screen.

The airline named the pilot as Mohammed Said Ali Shaqir and said he had over 6,000 hours of flights logged, more than 2000 of them on Airbus A320s. The co-pilot had 2,766 flight hours logged, the company said.

The plane was delivered to the operator in 2003, its manufacturer Airbus said, adding that it had accumulated some 48,000 flight hours.

The Toulouse-based aircraft manufacturer added it had no further details on the flight but says it is ready to provide technical assistance to investigators.

French President Francois Hollande agreed in a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi on "coordination and cooperation" between their countries to unravel circumstances surrounding the accident, Egyptian state television reported.

"We are mobilized and at the disposal of the Egyptian authorities, with our military resources - our planes, our boats - to help with the search for the plane," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told RTL radio that "no hypothesis" on what happened to the plane can be dismissed at this point.

Families of the people on board are being received at a hotel near Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, Ayrault said. An emergency line was also set up at the French embassy in Cairo.

At Cairo airport, families who had been waiting to meet passengers of the plane were brought to a private room and were being attended to by medical staff, officials said.

Thursday's apparent crash comes in the wake of other incidents involving Egyptian aviation.

In March, a man used a fake explosive belt made of mobile phone covers and cables to force an Egyptair flight to land in Cyprus.

In October, a Russian passenger jet broke up in mid-air shortly after take-off from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

Russian authorities said that the incident was caused by a bomb. The Islamic State extremist group, which operates in Sinai, claimed responsibility and published a photograph of a soft drink can which it said had been filled with explosives and smuggled onto the flight.

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