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Search Parties Begin To Look For Missing EgyptAir Flight

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: France is ruling nothing out as to why an EgyptAir plane is missing after taking off from Paris headed for Cairo. That statement came from France's prime minister after EgyptAir Flight 804 vanished from radar this morning. It had 66 people on board.


Throughout this morning, we'll be hearing the latest from here in the U.S., in Paris and in Cairo. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is on the line with us now from Paris. NPR's Russell Lewis is in Birmingham, Ala., from where he covers aviation issues. And also with us is Alex Macheras. He is an aviation analyst in London who's been following the disappearance and joined us by Skype. Welcome to you all. And Eleanor, let's start with you. What do we know so far about the disappearance of this plane? And one thing, where exactly do we know it disappeared?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Renee, the first thing that - the newest thing that I have is that Airbus, the builder of the plane that delivered it to EgyptAir in 2003 has announced on its website - we regret to confirm the loss of an EgyptAir A320 Flight MS804 in the Mediterranean. So that has been confirmed on Airbus' site. This plane took off from Paris last night at 11. It was supposed to arrive at 3 a.m. local time. It went off the radar at 2:30 a.m., and the Airbus statement says that's when it crashed.

MONTAGNE: And may I turn to you, Alex Macheras? Again, you aviation there in London. What do we know about the plane's, well, course? We've been hearing a bit about it. But what are the scenarios that are being - or would be being weighed for this disappearance - and loss, it sounds like?

ALEX MACHERAS: Good morning. While, I mean, in terms of what we know, the aircraft's last known location - this aircraft, the Airbus A320, operating for EgyptAir had flown most of its redeye flight from Paris to Cairo. It had just flown 10 miles into Egyptian airspace, where we know that radar lost coverage of the aircraft, not because of lack of coverage, but because the aircraft left radar at its cruising altitude 37,000 feet.

Now, this was almost instantly. We know when looking back at the radar data that's available to us as the public that, actually, this aircraft didn't appear to be in any difficulty. For example, sometimes we can watch aircraft descend descend in altitude or deviate off- course. It was very much there one second and tragically not the next.

MONTAGNE: Was, though, there any call for help - anything like that to suggest something was wrong?

MACHERAS: There absolutely wasn't. And that's - I'm keen to push that across in terms of there's been conflicting reports regarding a distress call as such. However, this did not take place. And the Egyptian military and the army have just come forward to say and confirm that that didn't take place. There was no signal sent out.

So in the typical aviation world, when an aircraft encounters trouble and finds itself in an emergency situation, it declares what's known as the squawk code, 7-7-0-0, which are four numbers that they tap in in the flight deck, which is a signal that lets air traffic controllers all around the world know that that aircraft is in trouble and is in an emergency situation, ready to initiate procedures to accommodate it. This did not happen. This aircraft was cruising normally, wasn't far from Cairo at all. It had just left Greek airspace, entered Egyptian airspace. We know the flight crew spoke to the pilots 10 minutes before this aircraft disappeared.

MONTAGNE: Well, you've just said that the Egyptian military had made an announcement. It has begun an investigation into the disappearance. What involvement will it have? This was not a military plane. It was a civilian plane.

MACHERAS: That's right. But the military have hardware and software available to them that wouldn't ordinarily be available to others. For example, you know, that - they have their own radar, the military radar, which can track the likes of aircraft that turn their transponders off to try and go invisible.

Now, we're lucky that doesn't happen often. But if you cast your minds back to Malaysia Airlines MH370, that's what we suspect happened there. Well, we know somebody in the flight deck deliberately tried to turn the transponder off. We're not expecting that with this EgyptAir aircraft. We do think that - although unexplainable as to how this aircraft just vanished from the sky at this time, that Egypt are treating it as a crash. And French and Egypt officials alike have come forward to say this aircraft, unfortunately, did not land. And so there's only one thing that it did do. And they're saying it crashed over the Mediterranean.

KELLY: Let me jump in here. This is Mary Louise. And Russell, let me throw a question to you in terms of what is leaping out at you at this stage as perhaps unusual or noteworthy. I wonder, just listening there to Alex, should we read anything into the fact this plane had apparently just crossed into Egyptian airspace when it fell off the radar?

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Well, according to the radar tracks that I've seen, it literally had just crossed in. And I don't think we should read anything into that at all. It's just really hard to say at this point. I mean, the interesting thing to me as someone who's paid attention to aviation is that this plane was flying at a constant altitude, at a constant speed and at a constant heading when it just disappeared. And so that says to you that something potentially catastrophic happened.

But - we have to remind listeners and everyone else that we are still in the early hours of this investigation. And it is still far too early to tell, to try to figure out what happened and why. All that we can talk about is what we know, and that is that the plane was supposed to land. It hasn't landed. And as of now, search and rescue haven't found any indication that they can - found this airplane in the Mediterranean.

KELLY: And Eleanor, let me draw you back in.


KELLY: We are being very careful about not speculating. We don't whether terrorism is involved here. But how surprising would it be to have a security problem at Charles de Gaulle Airport, given how tight security has been made there following recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and in Paris?

BEARDSLEY: Right. Well, Mary Louise, first, just let me just say one thing. This statement from Airbus has come out. And it says they regret to confirm that it was lost at 2:30 a.m. over the Mediterranean. So it doesn't actually say it crashed. It says it was lost. So I probably misspoke. But the information is changing so quickly now.

KELLY: Sure.

BEARDSLEY: They are talking about, you know - could something have happened at Charles de Gaulle? Charles de Gaulle is very - has very tight security, very tight security. But these planes - this plane had just arrived from Cairo and was only on the tarmac for a couple of hours and had also been in Tunis and Eritrea. This is what French media is saying. Planes are not - every nook and cranny of a plane is not checked every time it lands at a tarmac, reloads and takes passengers. So while security is very tight at Charles de Gaulle, they cannot ensure 100 percent security anywhere.

MONTAGNE: And of course, we're going to be following this loss of the EgyptAir flight throughout the morning. That was NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Thank you, Russell Lewis as well, also Alex Macheras who is an aviation analyst speaking to us from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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