A search is under way for an EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo which has disappeared with 56 passengers and 10 crew on board – including one British national.
The fate of the plane is not yet known and officials have said it is too early to rule out any possibility, including terrorism, but all those on board are now feared to have died.
French President Francois Hollande said “unfortunately the information we have … confirms to us the plane came down and is lost”, suggesting it crashed near the southern Greek island of Karpathos where the search is focused.
At the same time, Greek defence minister Panos Kammenos said the aircraft was in Egyptian airspace and flying at 37,000ft when it made “sudden swerves” and plunged to 15,000ft.
He said it swerved “90 degrees left and then 360 degrees to the right” before vanishing.
Authorities are examining CCTV footage at Charles de Gaulle Airport – and investigating an account from the captain of a merchant ship who reported seeing a “flame in the sky” some 130 nautical miles south of Karpathos.
Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy said the jet was more likely to have been brought down by a “terror attack” than a technical fault.
He added there were no known security issues with the passengers who boarded the flight, but further checks were being carried out.
Flight MS804 departed the French capital at 11.09pm (CEST). The airline said the plane lost contact with radar at 2.45am Cairo time (1.45am BST). It was last in touch 10 minutes earlier.
At that stage the Airbus A320, which was 13 years old and had logged 48,000 flight hours, was about three hours and 40 minutes into the four-hour journey.
Military search and rescue teams picked up an automated signal from the plane’s emergency beacon at 4.26am Cairo time (3.26am BST) – around 80 minutes after it was supposed to land in Cairo. It is thought this may have been triggered on impact.
Thirty Egyptians, 15 French, two Iraqis, a Belgian, Kuwaiti, Saudi, Sudanese, Chadian, Algerian, Portuguese and Canadian are among the passengers which also include one child and two babies.
Greek and French boats and planes have joined special teams from the Egyptian armed forces in the search for the jet. Greece also has a submarine on standby.
All vessels near Karpathos have been alerted to help. Bulk carrier Oceanus reported seeing no wreckage or fuel.
Greek civil aviation authorities said the jet disappeared off its radar two minutes after leaving its airspace. Prior to that, its air traffic controllers spoke to the pilot who reported no problems.
However, just before the handover to Cairo airspace, calls to the plane went unanswered.
Ahmed Abdel, the vice-chairman of EgyptAir holding company, told CNN there had been no distress calls from the plane.
The New York Times quoted Ehab Mohy el-Deen, the head of Egypt’s air navigation authority, as saying: “They did not radio for help or lose altitude. They just vanished.”
The airline said the plane’s pilot had flown 6,275 hours – including 2,101 hours on the same model – while the co-pilot had done 2,766 hours.
Commercial airline pilot Chris McGee told Sky News there were only two circumstances that would prevent a pilot from contacting air traffic control: “One would be if there was human intervention. The second is something has occurred on the flight deck.”
A crisis centre offering support to the distressed families of loved ones on board has been set up at Cairo International Airport.
Sky’s Sherine Tadros, at the airport, said: “People here are in tears and are losing hope as the hours go by.”
The Foreign Office said it was providing support to the family of the British national on board.
France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls saiid “no theory can be ruled out on the cause of this disappearance”, as Paris and Cairo prosecutors launched an investigation into the disappearance of the jet.
Airbus, which delivered the plane to EgyptAir in 2003 said “our concerns go out to all those affected”.
The flight tracking history of the jet showed it had also flown to Tunisia, Eritrea and Brussels in the last few days.