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EgyptAir flight disappears while en route to Cairo from Paris

Officials said the plane vanished immediately upon entering Egyptian airspace
File photo shows an EgyptAir Airbus A340-600 airliner in flight (AFP)

A search and rescue operation was under way on Thursday after an EgyptAir flight with 66 people on board vanished from radar en route from Paris to Cairo, the airline said.

A tweet on the airline's official account said flight MS804 left Paris at 11:09 pm local time (2109 GMT), "heading to Cairo [and] has disappeared from radar".

Further tweets in Arabic said contact was lost at 2:45 am Cairo time (0045 GMT), when the plane was just inside Egyptian airspace and at an altitude of 37,000 feet (11,000 metres).

There were 56 passengers, seven crew members and three security men aboard, according to the airline.

France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Thursday that "no theory can be ruled out".

A French security source also told the Telegraph newspaper that the possibility of a "terrorist attack" could not be ruled out.  

The Egyptian military deployed search aircraft and naval vessels to locate the plane, the Egyptian army said.

Greece is also participating in the search for the Airbus A320 and is looking into reports that a a captain of a merchant ship saw a "flame in the sky" some 130 nautical miles south of the southern Greek island of Karpathos. 

The airline has released a list of most of the nationalities on board. There were 30 Egyptians, 15 French, two Iraqis, one British, one Belgian, one Sudanese, one Chadian, one Portugese, one Algerian and one Canadian on the flight.

"EGYPTAIR has contacted the concerned authorities and bodies and inspection is under way through the rescue teams," another tweet in English said.

The Associated Press reported that a spokesman for the Egyptian civil aviation agency told the news outlet SkyNews Arabia that the plane probably crashed into the Mediterranean sea.

He added that the flight was about to enter Egyptian airspace when it disappeared, which seemingly contradicts EgyptAir statements that contact was lost 10 miles (16km) in Egyptian airspace.

The flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Cairo normally takes just over four hours and the plane was due to arrive at 3:05 am local time. 

The Flightradar24 website said MS804 is an Airbus A320-232, and was delivered to the airline in 2003.

EgyptAir hit the headlines in March when a flight from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to divert to Cyprus, where an "unstable" hijacker demanded to see his ex-wife. 

In October, the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for bombing a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.

The disappearance of the jet on Thursday comes more than two years after the start of one of the most enduring mysteries in aviation history.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished on 8 March, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board, mostly Chinese and Malaysians.

Authorities believe the Boeing 777 detoured to the remote southern Indian Ocean and then plunged into the water.

The costly, painstaking search for a crash site has yet to yield results, but five pieces of debris have been identified as either definitely or probably from the jet, all found thousands of kilometres (miles) from the search zone, likely swept there by ocean currents.

Theories to explain the disappearance include a possible mechanical or structural failure, a hijacking or terror plot, or rogue pilot action.

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