EgyptAir plane made abrupt turns and rapidly lost altitude before disappearance

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The EgyptAir flight made abrupt turns and suddenly lost altitude before vanishing from radar, Greece's defence minister has said.

EgyptAir Flight MS804 disappeared from radar 10 miles inside Egyptian air space at 2.30am Cairo time (1.30am GMT) after taking off just under three-and-a-half hours earlier from Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Reports claim it crashed inside Egyptian airspace south west of Karpathos, which is around 50 miles east of Crete in the eastern Mediterranean.

Panos Kammenos, the Greek defence minister, said the aircraft made a series of sharp turns and plummeted thousands of feet through the air before disappearing.

He said: "It turned 90 degrees left and then a 360-degree turn toward the right, dropping from 38,000 to 15,000 feet and then it was lost at about 10,000 feet."

French President Francois Hollande said that nothing has been ruled out about the cause of the crash. Speaking at the Elysee Palace in Paris, he said: "When we have the truth we need to draw all the conclusions.

"At this stage, we must give priority to solidarity toward the families (of the victims)."

The Paris prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into the accident.

The prosecutor said in a statement that its collective accident department opened the investigation with the national gendarme service. It said "no hypothesis is favoured or ruled out at this stage".

EgyptAir said the Airbus A320 vanished 10 miles after it entered Egyptian air space, around 175 miles off the country's coastline north of the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.

Aviation officials said the plane had crashed and a search was under way. The "possibility that the plane crashed has been confirmed", as the plane had not landed in any nearby airports, said the officials.

Another official said a signal had been picked up from the plane two hours after it disappeared from radar, thought to have been an emergency beacon

Egyptian military aircraft and navy ships are taking part in a search operation off Egypt's Mediterranean coast to locate the plane. It was carrying 56 passengers, including one child and two babies, and 10 crew members. The pilot had 6,000 flight hours.

EgyptAir said those on board included 15 French passengers, 30 Egyptians, one Briton, two Iraqis, one Kuwaiti, one Saudi, one Sudanese, one Chadian, one Portuguese, one Belgian, one Algerian and one Canadian.

Egypt's state-run newspaper Al-Ahram quoted an airport official as saying the pilot did not send a distress call, and that last contact with the plane was made 10 minutes before it disappeared from radar.

Airbus is aware of the disappearance, but "we have no official information at this stage of the certitude of an accident", company spokesman Jacques Rocca said.

Mr Hollande spoke with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on the phone and agreed to "closely co-operate to establish as soon as possible the circumstances", according to a statement issued in Paris.

French prime minister Manuel Valls said no scenario could be ruled out, and France was ready to join the search operation if Egyptian authorities requested assistance.

Around 15 relatives of passengers on the missing flight have arrived at Cairo airport. Airport authorities brought doctors to the scene after several distressed family members collapsed.

Greece joined the search and rescue operation with two aircraft: one C-130 and one early warning aircraft, the Hellenic National Defence General Staff said. They said one frigate was also heading to the area, and helicopters are on standby on the southern island of Karpathos for potential rescue or recovery operations.

French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: "We are at the disposition of the Egyptian authorities with our military capacities, with our planes, our boats, to help in the search for this plane."

Mr Ayrault confirmed 15 French people were on the flight. "We imagine the anguish of the families."

Egyptian prime minister Sherif Ismail said he could not rule out the possibility of a terrorist attack.

He said there was no "distress call" but there was a "signal" received from the plane.

Konstantinos Lintzerakos, Greece Civil Aviation Authority's director, said Greek air traffic controllers were in contact with the pilot who reported no problems as the aircraft cruised at 37,000 feet, travelling at 519 mph.

The controllers tried to make contact with the pilot 10 miles before the plane exited the Greek Flight Information Region (FIR). The pilot did not respond, he said, and they continued to try to speak to him until 3.29am local time when the plane disappeared from the radar inside Egypt's FIR, 7 miles south-east of the island of Crete.

The French military said a Falcon surveillance jet monitoring the Mediterranean for migrants has been diverted to help search for the EgyptAir plane. Military spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said the jet is joining the Egypt-led search effort, and the French navy may send another plane and a ship to the zone.

In Cairo, Mr el-Sissi convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, the country's highest security body. The council includes the prime minister and the defence, foreign and interior ministers, in addition to the chiefs of the intelligence agencies.

In Paris, relatives of passengers on the flight started arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport outside the French capital, where their loved ones were last seen alive.

The Airbus A320 is a widely used twin-engine, single-aisle plane that operates on short and medium-haul routes. Nearly 4,000 A320s are currently in use around the world. The ubiquity of the A320 means the plane has been involved in several accidents over the years. The last deadly crash involving the plane was Germanwings Flight 9525, in which all 150 on board died when one of the pilots intentionally crashed it in the French Alps.

Airbus said the aircraft was delivered to EgyptAir in 2003 and had logged 48,000 flight hours before it "was lost" over the Mediterranean. The European plane-maker said in a statement that it had engines made by Swiss-based engine consortium IAE, and had the serial number 2088.