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Relatives of EgyptAir passengers search for answers amid confusion

"We just want to know the truth, it won't bring anyone back, but we need to know."
Relatives and friends of passengers of EgyptAir plane that crashed in Mediterranean comfort each other at Friday prayers at Abou Bakr el-Sedek mosque in Cairo. (AFP)

The situation is "catastrophic," said Hassan Shadad, who is related to two of the missing. The parents of his 30-year-old cousin, Haithem Deidah, are in “deep shock” after hearing that their son and his 18-month-old daughter Donia were among the passengers of an EgyptAir flight that disappeared off the radar en route from Paris to Cairo this week.

"We just want to know the truth, it won't bring anyone back, but we need to know," Shadad told Middle East Eye.

"The news, both local and international, has been extremely conflicting," Shadad said, adding that he was relying on Deidah's friends in France and on Facebook for more accurate updates than those given by Egyptian TV.

Early on Thursday morning, at about 02:45 local time, Egypt's national carrier reported flight MS804 had vanished after flying 10 miles into Egyptian airspace.

On Saturday, EgyptAir said that "Egyptian military and marine forces have discovered more debris, passengers’ belongings, body parts, luggage and aircraft seats."

France's aviation safety agency said smoke was detected on the flight shortly before data transmissions were lost.

Experts say the presence of smoke just before the crash could indicate that it was the result of a technical failure, though Egyptian officials said it was “too early” to speculate. The civil aviation minister said the disaster was more likely the result of an attack than a fault with the plane.

"The search is still in progress," said a statement from EgyptAir, whose reputation is taking a pounding in the wake of the crash.

Two days after the plane went down, the investigation committee formed by Egypt's ministry of aviation has yet to report any findings. No signals from the black box in-flight recorders had been found by Saturday evening.

"Will it be a good investigation?” Shadad asked. “Will it be as thorough as it would be if it had been a tragedy involving only foreigners?"

Deidah was the family's main breadwinner and provided financial support for his parents. That means government promises of compensation must be kept, Shadad said. "Will there really be compensation?" he asked.

He also questioned whether families would be able to obtain their loved ones' bodies for burial, adding that there was no clarity for relatives.

Another, more personal need for the family is facilitating travel from France for their son's wife and their remaining granddaughter. "His parents are Egyptian nationals and travel [to France] is not easy," Shadad said. Deidah's Moroccan wife, who is in a late stage of pregnancy, and their daughter were unable to travel to Egypt. Deidah's parents "want to see their grand-daughter." Shadad said.

Deidah "was like any other young man in Egypt. He left to build a future for himself," Shadad said. “In France, he opened a business and hired lots of people from the family and the village."

His family lives mostly in the village of Mit Badr Halawa in the Gharbeya governorate, which is known for strong immigration ties to France. Two other men from the village were also among the deceased - Khaled Allam and Khaled Tantawy.

There were a total of 56 passengers and 10 crew members on the flight, including 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, as well as nationals of Iraq, Sudan, Kuwait and Canada among others. The passengers included a child and two newborns.

On Friday, Egyptians prayed for the deceased in mosques acoss the country. Friends, families, and acquaintances shared their grief and stories of their loved ones on social media.

Amid the heartbreak, questions remained about how much would ever be known about what happened to all the missing.