For EgyptAir Flight 804 co-pilot Mohammad Mamdouh Assem, becoming a pilot was a lifelong dream.
His father works as a flight crew member for the same airline, whose plane carrying 66 people crashed early Thursday 170 miles off the coast of Egypt, in what U.S. officials are saying was likely a terrorist bombing. Assem grew up looking up to his dad.
“He wanted to be a pilot since he was 5,” childhood friend Omar Nasef told The Daily Beast. “He was an unbelievable person, social.”
Assem’s mother, Mona, taught at Nasef’s primary school in Cairo but passed away from cancer a few years ago. When Nasef connected with Assem’s father in New York a few months ago, he said the family was still reeling from that loss.
“His mom put all her savings towards his education,” Nasef said. “The academy and all that, and it’s very expensive in Egypt. That was a big sacrifice.
“All that I know is that he loved flying,” Nasef added. “That was his dream job and that’s it.”
After news broke that the Egyptian commercial jet had crashed into the Mediterranean, many of Assem’s co-workers from the airline changed their profile photos to black squares with the traditional Muslim saying for the dead, a Quranic verse reading, “Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return.”
“This world is not worth your kindness and generosity,” friend and filmmaker Moemin Tarabik posted on Facebook. “We’ll meet again my friend and brother. Wait for me.”
Many of the families of the passengers aboard the doomed flight waited at either Charles de Gaulle Airport or Cairo International Airport, many overcome by tears, anger, or both. News of some of the victims’ identities has been circulating in the international press and on social media for hours.
Nancy Okail, the executive director of the Tahrir Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank devoted to the Middle East, told The Daily Beast that she knew one of the passengers on the ill-fated flight and found about his death on Facebook.
Out of respect for the victim’s family, Okail declined to share his name but said she grew up with him in the same neighborhood and attended the same sports club in Cairo.
“I work on these issues and was in meetings in Rome on extremism in the region, Syria and Egypt,” Okail said. “As I was logging on Facebook, I found my friend’s picture and later learned that it was him, his wife, father, and mother on the flight. Then I learned they had left their two little daughters behind. It’s scary how these tragedies touch you closely even if you are far away.”
Okail was arrested by Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011 after state authorities raided the offices of Freedom House, the American NGO she then headed in her native Cairo. She made world headlines after reading Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia from her courtroom cage. She managed to leave Egypt before her trial and was later sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in absentia.
Okail remembers her friend as incredibly pleasant. “In your youth, everyone is nice. It hurts because I know it’s a terror attack. This is not speculation. There is no other plausible cause.”
Mahamat Seitchi, a student at the French military academy Saint-Cyr, reportedly was taking MS804 home to Chad for his mother’s funeral. He was going to transfer in Cairo to a flight bound for N’djamena.
Among the 15 French passengers was happy-go-lucky Pascal Hess of Evreux, France, a freelance photographer who specialized in the local rock music scene and who was a volleyball fan. He took regular photos of the local Evreux volleyball club games. His nickname was “Calou.”
Paradoxically, Hess misplaced his passport just a few days before the trip but managed to locate it in time to board the doomed flight. He was on his way to meet a friend who was a diving instructor on the shores of the Red Sea in Egypt.
Pierre Heslouin, 75, was a former longtime city official in the town of Nogent-sur-Marne who left on the EgyptAir flight with his son Quentin Heslouin, one of triplets, who lived in London. Estelle Debaecker, the former mayor of Evreux, teared up when she spoke of her longtime friend Pierre Heslouin in a local interview. “Pierre was someone for whom friendship, family, and service to his community meant everything,” she said.
Clément Daeschner-Cormary was a 29-year-old junior investment banker with Aviva on his way up. His résumé included information on his degrees from schools in Grénoble and Paris, and the languages he spoke in addition to French. He also liked playing handball and was with the French federation of handball players. At the bottom of his LinkedIn profile, he noted: “Handball player since 2000 and coach.”
There were three children aboard the flight, according to France’s BFM TV.
Two of them, a 4-month-old infant and a 3-year-old boy, were with their parents, a couple from Angers, France, with the last name of Battiche who were heading to Cairo on vacation. There was also a 2-year-old boy on board.
Among the victims was Ahmed Halal, a local director of Procter & Gamble in the city of Amiens, French media reported. “It is a very difficult moment for us at Procter & Gamble and the whole production site here,” the company said.
Richard Osman, a British man on his way to work for a gold mining company in Egypt, was described by his brother Alistair as “a very kind person, loving person, very focused.”
“A very admirable person and a lot of people admired him for his strength and values,” Alistair told ITV News. Osman, who was originally from Wales but now lived in Jersey, was the father of two young girls.
Abdel Mohsen al-Sohaili, a Kuwaiti economist, was flying to Cairo for a three-day break, The New York Times reported.
His nephew Masharei al-Sohaili told the Times that his uncle was looking forward to the trip. “He was happy to come,” he said, adding, “He had his two kids. Both disabled.”