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Debris From EgyptAir Flight 804 Found In Mediterranean

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We're now well into day two of the search for EgyptAir Flight 804. The Airbus 320 with at least 66 people on board disappeared yesterday over the Mediterranean on a redeye flight from Paris to Cairo. This morning, Egyptian officials say they found debris they believe is parts of the plane. To bring us up to date, let's check in now with two of our reporters who are covering the story. Eleanor Beardsley is in Paris and Emily Harris in Cairo. Good morning.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And first you, Emily. What is known about the final minutes of Flight 804?

HARRIS: Well, as far as the final minutes, not a lot still clear about what happened. The picture that Greek and Egyptian officials painted yesterday remains all that's known. The plane was flying normally at 37,000 feet. The last communication from the pilot to air traffic control was routine. It appeared to, shortly after that, turn sharply, lose altitude and then disappeared off the radar screen.

This morning, the Egyptian military said they have now found some debris from the plane, some of the passengers' belongings. They're still looking for that black box, which is going to, perhaps, give more information about what happened, the reason for the disappearance of the plane and the crash into the sea.

There's a headline in an Egyptian newspaper, Al-Youm Taba (ph) that actually kind of sums things up this way today. There's a big, red, front-page headline that says, catastrophe. And then there's photos around that of relatives who have their hands over their eyes and are weeping and hugging each other. And then at the very top, there's a small headline on a black background, a white headline saying, 50 percent chance terrorism, 40 percent mechanical error, 10 percent human. So that kind of guesswork is what we still have right now.

MONTAGNE: Well, last year, a Russian passenger jet went down in the Sinai, killing everyone on board. The Islamic State claimed responsibility, but it was months before Egyptian authorities acknowledged the crash was terrorism. It sounds like they're being careful but not - but at least trying to come out with saying something.

HARRIS: That's right. And we don't have a claim of responsibility for this airline crash at the moment. And that, last year the Russian air passenger jet that took off from Egypt, this plane did not take off from Egypt. That crash also dominated the press in a very different way, blaming Egyptian airplanes, airline security and so forth. We did, though, yesterday, hear Egypt's minister of civil aviation raise the possibility of terrorism. He did not favor one cause over the other. He really kept trying to say it's a missing plane until we know more. We don't have definitive answers.

But he did say if you look at things rationally, terrorism is more likely than, for example, mechanical failure. He also dismissed a few questions about some apparent reported repairs to the plane a couple of years ago. He said that was irrelevant. Egypt, you know, has its own domestic sensitivity to terrorism. They have terrorist groups they're grappling with, particularly in the Sinai desert. And the one that went down last October did start from Sharm el-Sheikh in the Sinai. So that is one difference from the Egyptian perspective of this crash.

MONTAGNE: Eleanor Beardsley, let's bring you in there from Paris, where this plane took off from. What are French investigators looking at?

BEARDSLEY: So the mystery of it is being evoked. The headline of daily newspaper Liberation says radio silence, or (speaking in French). But still, the prospect of terrorism is being evoked. You know, analysts are saying it was a safe airline, a good plane, experienced pilots. It went down in a way that's not indicative of technical failure. Now, the Paris prosecutor has opened an investigation. They're starting with analyzing the contents of the 9,000 video surveillance cameras at Charles de Gaulle Airport to look at the behavior of the 66 passengers and crew, if there's anything, you know, bizarre.

Also, every technician and employee who had contact with that plane is being investigated, is being talked to. They are raising a scary prospect too, Renee. It's that, you know, these planes - you make an hour-and-a-half layover, and then you fly off somewhere else. During that time, you're refueled. You're cleaned. Meals are delivered. What if someone were to come in and put a explosive device while they were cleaning or delivering a meal? It would just take one complicit employee. So this is raising, you know, very scary prospects.

This plane on the same day also had layovers in Cairo and in Tunis. So, you know, there's going to be a lot investigation into the people who work at Charles de Gaulle Airport. There's 85,000 employees there. And to add to that, last November after the terrorist attacks, officials actually withdrew the badges of 70 employees who they considered had some strange behavior that led them to believe that maybe they were, you know, radicals, Islamic radicals.

MONTAGNE: It is not, let's be clear again, known what happened to this flight. But given that France has been hard hit by terror attacks, what has been the reaction there?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Renee, I think the first reaction is this is a major European airport. It is super secure. After the attacks last year, I mean, you go there, there are soldiers there, police, they've doubled it. It's very secure. Is it possible that someone could actually get a bomb on a plane in an airport like this? And if so, then it can happen anywhere.

And I think that's just sort of the fear in everyone's mind. The French television was talking to people at the airport this morning. You know, a lot of people were like, you just have to go ahead. But people were expressing that. Here I am, getting on an airplane at this airport. Is it really safe even though there's, you know, police everywhere?

MONTAGNE: And Emily, back to you in Cairo. What are Egyptian investigators focusing on?

HARRIS: Well, Renee, they say they're going to consider every possibility. Egypt's civil aviation minister did caution yesterday not expect any answers soon.

MONTAGNE: Emily Harris in Cairo and Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, bringing us the latest on that Egypt air flight that has disappeared over the Mediterranean on a flight from Paris to Cairo. Egyptian officials say this morning that they have found debris from the flight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.