“Regarding the outcome of the search, we have been briefed by the Egyptian Joint Rescue Coordination Centre about the discovery of a body part, two seats and luggage at the scene of the search,” said Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos on Friday.
“That was a little to the south and east of where contact with the plane was lost, and further north of yesterday’s sighting which was confirmed to not be debris from the plane.”
Objects Greek and Egyptian search and rescue crews had found a day earlier turned out to be flotsam from innumerable refguee vessels.
“We have seen orange objects with ropes attached to them and blue objects. We won’t know what they are until they are salvaged,” Ioannis Tsitoumis, Hellenic Air Force spokesman, told The Daily Beast at the time.
Friday’s debris from the Airbus 320 was found 200 nautical miles SSE of the southern Greek island of Karpathos. Prevailing northern winds of 20-50 kmh have carried debris from MS804 that far during the overnight, authorities said.
Greece was deploying a C130 transport plane and a surveillance aircraft as well as a frigate for a second day on Friday. Eyewitnesses said two C130 planes were taking off from a military airstrip at Kastelli, in eastern Crete, patrolling the skies in alternating, five-hour shifts.
The only other hard evidence of the missing plane’s fate comes from Greece’s Air Force radar, which caught Flight 804 spinning out of control while plummeting to earth in the early hours on Thursday.
Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos described what is currently the flight’s last known location, about 130 nautical miles SSE of the southern Greek island of Karpathos.
“The picture we have of this accident, which comes from the Air Force’s operations centre, is that at 3:37 a.m. the plane… performed a 90 degree turn to the left followed by a turn of 360 degrees to the right, while at the same time falling from 37,000 feet to 15,000 feet, at which point we lost the picture we had, at about 10,000 feet,” said Kammenos.
An Air Force spokesman said the drop took place in under one minute, suggesting that the plane was in free-fall and pilots had lost all control. Military radar captured the spiral because it operates at lower altitudes than civil radar systems.
Egypt Air says 56 passengers were on board the Airbus A320, including a child and two infants. Thirty of the passengers were Egyptian, 15 French, and 11 from 10 other nationalities. There were also seven crew members and three security staff. The Egyptian Aviation Minister said there was a higher likelihood of sabotage than malfunction.
Flight 804 reported no irregularities when it entered the Athens Flight Information Region at 2:24 a.m. local time on Thursday, Greek civil aviation authorities said in a statement. FIR is an area broader than territorial airspace in which a given air traffic control tower is responsible for monitoring civilian aircraft. Pilots are obliged to signal their entry and departure between each FIR.
Athens air traffic controllers realized something was wrong when they attempted to contact flight MS804 to inform the pilot that he was leaving Athens FIR at 3:27 a.m. They hailed the aircraft repeatedly on regular and emergency frequencies, without luck.
“At 3:29 and 40 seconds the plane’s radar signal is lost,” says the statement from the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority. “The assistance of military radar was immediately requested in order to relocate the target, but without result.”
Flight 804 was in a death spiral seven minutes later. Civil and military authorities are currently unable to explain this reporting discrepancy.
The Greek C130 plane was the first responder, taking from Elefsina, west of Athens, at 4:14 a.m. and arriving at the last point of radar contact with MS804 shortly after 5 a.m.
That leaves a 90-minute lag during which military and civilian authorities had no eyes on the region. Prevailing winds of about 50 kmh could have scattered any debris from the crash in that time. Kammenos said he had requested any satellite imagery that might be available for the area in that time period from other European Union members.