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Frantic search underway off coast of Egypt for missing EgyptAir flight

CAIRO - Egyptian and Greek armed forces were searching the sea off Egypt for an EgyptAir flight carrying 66 people that disappeared from radar early Thursday at 37,000 feet. Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said in a statement that it was too soon to confirm whether the plane had crashed as no wreckage has yet been found.

There was conflicting information through the night about the flight, including whether or not officials received a distress signal from the aircraft. The airline said it did receive a distress signal from the plane, an Airbus A320 bound for Cairo from Paris, but the Egyptian armed forces said they were unaware of such a signal.

Speaking to reporters at Cairo International Airport, Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy said: “The search and rescue teams jumped the gun regarding the distress signal and EgyptAir did not receive a distress signal.”

Flight MS804 departed from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris at 11:09 p.m local time and was expected to land in Cairo at about 3:15 in the morning Cairo time. It disappeared from radar 45 minutes before its landing time, the airline announced on Twitter. The A320 had flown 10 miles into Egyptian airspace when it lost contact with the tracking system, according to initial reports.

Search and rescue operations were focused on an area 40 miles north of the Egyptian coastline, EgyptAir Vice Chairman Ahmed Adel told CNN.

A statement posted to Egyptian army spokesman Mohamed Samir’s Facebook page on Thursday said a number of airplanes and navy vessels have been dispatched. In coordination with Greek officials, a state of emergency has been declared at military hospitals and disaster operations centers.

Of the 66 people on board, 56 were passengers, including two infants and one child, seven were crew members and three were security personnel.

French authorities told reporters at a news conference on Thursday that it is usual practice for EgyptAir to have three security officers aboard.

Among those on board, according to the airline, were 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, two Iraqis and one passenger each from England, Belgium, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Chad, Portugal, Algeria and Canada. No Americans were on the flight.

The pilot of the plane had more than 6,000 hours of flight experience, including more than 2,000 hours flying the same model aircraft, EgyptAir said. The co-pilot had nearly 3,000 flying hours. Adel told CNN they had no problems leaving Paris.

The plane was manufactured in 2003.

Relatives of passengers were kept in a lounge with on-site doctors and translators at the Cairo airport Thursday morning. They left after a few hours and were told to await updates by phone. One man with four relatives on the plane told The Washington Post that he “knows nothing.”

Amr Sami, a regional EgyptAir spokesman at Charles de Gaulle Airport, told The Post that EgyptAir flights from Paris will continue as scheduled. Meanwhile, families of passengers in Paris were taken to an airport hotel.

“No hypothesis can be excluded at this stage on the causes of the disappearance,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told Radio Luxembourg.

A statement from French President Francois Hollande’s office said that Hollande has spoken with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. French authorities would cooperate with the investigation to find the cause as quickly as possible, the statement said.

In March, an EgyptAir flight from Alexandria was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus. The suspect, 59-year-old Seif Eldin Mustafa, surrendered and all hostages were released.

A Russian plane exploded in midair over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last October, killing all 223 people aboard. An affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

Heba Habib reported from Cairo, Sudarsan Raghavan from Sana’a, Yemen, and Yanan Wang from Washington. The Washington Post’s James McAuley in Paris, Erin Cunningham in Istanbul, Missy Ryan and Sarah Kaplan in Washington contributed to this report.