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EgyptAir Flight 804 Crashes in Mediterranean; U.S.: Bomb Brought Down EgyptAir Flight 804. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 19, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:06] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kate Bolduan.


We are following the breaking news. EgyptAir has apparently crashed off the coast of Egypt with 66 people on board. Egypt now says it's more likely that the cause is terror, not a technical failure. There's a frantic search right now for survivors and for the plane itself or what is left of it. Greece says a search plan has spotted debris in the Mediterranean Sea near where the flight vanished from radar but it is unclear if these pieces are from the missing plane.

BOLDUAN: With very few concrete answers at this point, there really is nothing but questions.

And we also have some breaking news, breaking new details coming in just now.

Let's get over to justice reporter, Evan Perez, with much more on that.

Evan, what are you picking up?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate and John, right now U.S. officials really have very little to go on. But one of the things that their leading theory right now for U.S. investigators who are watching this closely is that they believe it's most likely a bombing that brought down this aircraft. Again, this is not based on any hard evidence, but simply the circumstances of what we're dealing with. We're talking about a highly sophisticated aircraft, an aircraft that has a lot of redundancies. It makes it even difficult for someone to deliberately stall this aircraft, and just the circumstances of the threat picture that we're facing in Europe and also in Egypt. Again, this is early indications, early theories by U.S. officials who are closely tracking this. They want to be invited to help participate in this investigation. There's a lot obviously of U.S. interest in this.

One thing that we've been reporting on is this report from Greece, the Greek authorities saying that they notice swerves in the aircraft, the aircraft swerving in the air and then dropping to 15,000 feet from 37,000 feet. We're talking to U.S. officials who tell us that, you know, that simply may be radar picking up pieces of the aircraft as it was blown up in the sky. Again, that's something they're looking at, at this point. They believe that French investigators are going to have to focus initially on the ground crew, people who had access to this aircraft in Paris and obviously Egyptian investigators are going to have to focus on the flight crew, people -- the passenger manifest, even the security people who were on board this aircraft because something happened to this plane at 37,000 feet. It doesn't just mysteriously disappear. Something catastrophic happened, and they believe at this point the early indications, even what the Egyptians are saying at this point as well, that there is something related to terrorism, most likely a bombing that brought down this aircraft.

BERMAN: Evan Perez, U.S. officials telling you early theory, the early notion is it was a bomb that took down the plan, because of the circumstances. The fact, they're saying, that at all, Evan, very, very significant.

Evan Perez, thanks so much.

PEREZ: Thanks.

BERMAN: Let's go to CNN's senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, at the Cairo International Airport where flight 804 was supposed to land several hours ago.

Arwa, nowhere on earth now do I think they want more answers than that airport where so many people were probably there to meet loved ones who were due to land and that's why the Egyptian officials are very much engaged in this investigation.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They really are. And what you heard Evan reporting there from the U.S. side is something that was previously stated to a certain degree by Egypt's own civil aviation minister where he had it was most likely terrorism as opposed to a technical failure that had brought this plane down.

There are a few key points that investigators are most certainly going to be looking at, and that is exactly what happened in the plane's final moments. Greek authorities say that they tried to contact the aircraft as it was moving from Greek into Egyptian air space. They were going to be handing over control from Greece over to Egypt. At that point, they struggled to make contact, and it was shortly afterwards where the plane began its plummet and then completely disappeared from radar.

The building you see behind me, this is where a Lot of families have been coming, especially Egyptian families who are here waiting for their loved ones to be arriving back home, coming to try to get some sort of information. We're not allowed inside the building, and those who have been willing to talk to the media have been coming out sporadically throughout the entire day. In the morning as people were going in, they were very confused, very startled, shocked, and then as they began coming out, as the news began seeping in that this plane was, in fact, missing, there was a lot of emotion and understandably so. People breaking down. People very angry. People wanting answers. But also people trying to cope with the reality that they might not be seeing their loved once again. And at the same time, you still also have some people who are still holding out hope that perhaps their loved ones may still be alive because what does one do in these kinds of circumstances but try to hold on to hope.

Now, the Egyptian military reportedly has spotted some debris in the water, unclear though at this stage if that debris is, in fact, part of this EgyptAir aircraft. There's still a lot of information out there that is fairly conflicting at this stage and also a lot that investigators are trying to piece together when it comes to exactly what transpired, and if it does, in fact, turn out to be an act of terrorism, you're going to have an investigation that is going to be happening across multiple continents spanning through numerous nations. Needless to say, the French and the Egyptians having to come together to try to figure out exactly what went wrong and how did this, in fact, happen.

[11:06:10] BERMAN: Arwa Damon for us in Cairo.

It is notable that Egyptian officials do say it's more likely an act of terror than a technical failure which is much further than Egyptian officials usually go and much more quickly than they usually go. Again, Evan Perez reporting that's the current belief. The current early theory by U.S. officials is they believe it was likely an act of terror. That's just based on conjecture at this point.

Thank you, Arwa.

BOLDUAN: Big news coming in from, obviously, Arwa and especially from evan.

Let's discuss this. We've got a whole lot of people who know a whole lot about this Us right now. Paul Ginsberg is forensic audio expert and a forensic evidence specialist; our CNN aviation analyst, Les Abend, a 777 captain and contributing editor for "Flying" magazine; Paul Cruickshank, CNN terrorism analyst; Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst and a former top official at DHS; CNN safety analyst and former FAA safety inspector, David Soucie; and aviation attorney, Justin Green.

Everybody here with us.

Paul, first to you.

With this news coming in from Evan Perez that the initial theory from U.S. officials is that this was terrorism and that their working theory was this was a bomb that brought down this plane, not based on concrete evidence, just looking at the circumstantial evidence of what is known right now, what's your take?

PAUL GINSBERG, FORENSIC AUDIO SPECIALIST & FORENSIC EVIDENCE SPECIALIST: Well, this underscores the importance of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder once they're recovered to see exactly what happened during the last few minutes of the flight, whether there was something that the pilot and the co-pilot were aware of, something that was imminent, whether something had happened, they would be disabled, an exPLOsion or a failure of the equipment. And this is what we're hoping to find out hopefully soon. BERMAN: Paul Cruickshank, to you now.

Any chatter right now among terrorist groups or terrorist organizations? What are you picking up about if this is, in fact, an act of terror, two could be behind it?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: There have been no credible claims of responsibility. In fact, not really any claims of responsibility at all from any terrorist groups. There's been deafening silence from ISIS. They've put out statements about other activity but been completely silent on this plane crash. There's been nothing from al Qaeda either on this.

And we must stress, this is only a working theory right now from the Egyptians, from some parts of the American government that this could be terrorism. There is no concrete data at this point suggesting this is a terrorist attack. But they will certainly be looking at the passenger list, the cargo manifest, and also looking at where this plane was over the last 24 hours. Obviously, it departed from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. There's been some concern about radicalization amongst airport workers there since the Paris attacks. They have tied things up a lot in recent months. It would be very difficult to get a bomb on board a plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport. They will also be looking at the other stops along the way, notably in Cairo, Eritrea, and Tunis, all airports in the developing world where there have been concerns these countries are lagging behind in aviation security. They did not have the state of the art technology, not as good training in many of these countries, and they don't have as rigorous security protocols for workers at the airport.

Only just a few months ago, in February, in Somalia we saw the Shabaab terrorist group, an al Qaeda affiliate, managed to get a bomb on a Somalian passenger jet. It actually blew up this laptop bomb, a sophisticated device on the plane, and blew the bomber out with it. Fortunately, that plane was able to land.

But they'll be looking at that kind of scenario of terrorist potentially getting a bomb on a plane. Perhaps on an earlier stop for this aircraft if, indeed, it is terrorism which we just do not know yet for sure.

[11:10:26] BOLDUAN: And that's absolutely right. There is, of course, a note of caution in these early hours. This is an initial theory. More likely than not is the way that Egyptian officials are saying. But, of course, the facts can change as more facts come in. So these are working theories, as Paul is well pointing out.

Les, one thing Paul was just talking about is where the plane had been in the past two days prior, Cairo, Brussels, Tunis, Eritrea. He says those are kind -- there are concerns there are weak links in those airports. With that flight bath before plane swept again? What are the security measures when a plane has five legs even just that day?

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's a good question. We were talking with one of our CNN correspondents about just that thing, and a lot of people are probably familiar with coming from an international destination --

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

ABEND: -- into Kennedy, let's say, for instance, close to home here, and you have to carry your bags to your -- through to customs again and then go on to your domestic destination. So did that happen there or was this particular country that the airplane was in, did it just get checked all the way through with a possible device? But once again, as you have been saying, rightfully so, we don't know. This is preliminary information. There could be other aspects involved with why this airplane suffered some sort of catastrophic failure.

BERMAN: I want to bring in CNN aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien.

Miles, based on the data that we do have, which is that the plane -- you know, apparently, this all happened at 37,000 feet, cruising altitude, that it took that strange turn left, that strange turn right. Then it dropped 22,000 feet, very, very suddenly. Based on what we know about the communications, it checked in, everyone was happy. And then 30, 40 minutes later they couldn't make any contact, the ground couldn't. How does that fact pattern line early notion from U.S. Officials that it's an act of terror, some kind of bomb?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, John, I think it's very much in line with a deliberate act of some kind. It doesn't match the bomb scenario very well. In past cases where we've had these incidents happen, there hasn't been a precursor warning. In this case we had the air-traffic control failed hand-off. The crew not responding a couple minutes prior to all of this happening. That doesn't match with previous bomb scenarios that have occurred which just come instantaneously with no warning whatsoever, no indication at all. So I'm not sure how we can jive the lack of communication, the swerving, the erratic maneuvers along with the bomb theory. Certainly, it all fits into the notion of some sort of terror attack.

BOLDUAN: David Soucie, let me bring you in on this as well.

As Evan was telling us earlier, the wild turns, the swerve left, the turn right then, there is a theory that that could have been pieces of the aircraft being picked up on radar. Your thoughts on that?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: You know, radar is a fickle beast and can ill report some things. However, I don't see that as being a theory necessarily right now at this point. We don't even know how they got that information, whether it was radar, whether it was from errant reports from other radars in other countries. We do know that Greece did report it, but I don't put a lot of stock in that theory. I believe that it would have to be a very large piece if it did, and if it were two large pieces, those pieces would have fallen at different rates and would have been picked up as well on the way down.

BERMAN: Juliette, I want to bring you into the conversation right now.

What is the threat environment overall right now? You hear a flight originating in Paris, Charles de Gaulle, heading toward Egypt, another site where we know there was a great deal of terrorist activity. What's the overall threat environment?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it has been elevated, and we know that there's a number of State Department advisories regarding travel not just in Egypt but also in Europe. So, look, at this day and age we're going from the Philosophy there's a tremendous number of vulnerabilities and things can go wrong. I want to pick up on what miles said because it's a great way to think about it. A deliberate act is different than terrorism. We don't know what the motivation is, but all the evidence suggests it was a deliberate act. We don't know what it is yet, and that's why the investigation is going to take five or six different pathways over the course of the next couple days. Some will lead to dead ends and others will then begin to expose what, in fact, happened. This is important because we need airline travel to be safe and secure and to continue, right? We cannot just stop airplane travel around the globe. So figuring out who did this or what was the cause of the deliberate act is absolutely essential if only to give confidence in a global aviation environment.

[11:15:32] BOLDUAN: That's right, because the planes aren't going to stop flying, that's for sure.

Everyone stick around. We have obviously a lot more to discuss.

Breaking news coming in. In the situation, we're hearing from Evan Perez, the initial theory from U.S. officials, the early belief is a bomb took down the plane. This was an act of terrorism. That is just the initial theory. No concrete evidence yet. That is based on circumstantial findings, the evidence that's laid out there right now. A lot more to discuss.

This is CNN special coverage. We'll be right back.


BERMAN: Our breaking news just in to CNN. The early belief from U.S. government officials is that EgyptAir flight 804 went down due to an act of terror. This is based, we are told, more on circumstances than evidence at this point, but that is the early belief. The U.S. is now offering to join the investigation.

On the phone with us, CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what are you learning about the U.S. role?

[11:20:13] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John, I would just amend that to say the early theory rather than belief because the evidence at this point is largely circumstantial. Listen, indicative, but circumstantial. Because a plane at 37,000 feet, cruising altitude, the safest part of flight, doesn't just drop out of the air for no reason, but we do also know that a lot of the evidence at this point is early. For instance, satellite imagery at this point would not necessarily be conclusive as to whether there was a flash indicating an exPLOsion at the point of disappearance. That caution. The U.S. is in very close contact with both its Egyptian and French counterparts. These are two deep relationships on counter-terror issues. And one of the first things they share is the manifest of this flight, the passenger list and the U.S. can check it against its terror watch list. And that's something they can do very quickly. I'm confident they know right now if there's anybody on that plane that was on a watch list before. That's one thing we know that's happening right now and happening very quickly.

I spoke with French security source just a short time ago who said another point here is that you have the starting point of this flight, France, and the intended finishing point, Egypt, both being countries that have active terror threats. And that's, of course, part of the picture at this point. And both French and U.S. authorities in cooperation with French authorities are looking at it right now.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And U.S. officials offering any help that they can. This looks like it's going to become a massive effort of many nations coming together, many being involved now.

Jim Sciutto. Thank you so much, Jim.

But let's get to Paris right now. CNN senior international correspondent, Atika Shubert, is at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Atika, what are you seeing there? What are you hearing at Charles de Gaulle right now?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're actually in front of the EgyptAir ticketing desk and the airport, even though it is at its highest alert level is operating as normal. We have seen armed police, armed security going through the airport, making spot checks, but I have to point out this is high-level security that's been going on for some time now, for quite a few months here.

Now, the Paris prosecutor has launched an investigation into the missing EgyptAir flight. That is absolutely standard procedure when an air disaster like this happens. What they are doing right now is scrutinizing that passenger and crew list, figuring out the backgrounds, the history of who was on board, but also, of course, any personnel that may have had access to that plane before the flight.

Now, actually in the last few months, the Charles de Gaulle Airport underwent a security review in which about 70 employees were actually removed from their posts and had their security badges taken away because of fears they had links to Islamist groups. So the airport is well aware of the security concerns, and it notched it up significantly. But they are now, of course, reviewing it as a result of this missing EgyptAir flight.

BERMAN: A particular concern because of those people who have been let go over the last 13, 14 months because of these investigations. As you said though, security up as well, both sides of it.

Atika Shubert, thanks so much.

I want to bring in CNN aviation analysts, Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the Department of Transportation; and Peter Goelz, former NTSB managing director.

Mary, I want to start with you.

We've been hearing that the fact pattern that exists as of now, and by that I mean the limited data we have about the flight path, the altitude, when it was last heard from, that our aviation analyst suggests it could be a deliberate act. That fact pattern points to a deliberate act. Explain that.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think what people are doing and what we do as investigators, we look at prior acts, we look at prior crashes, prior disasters and say do any of those facts look similar here? And you can point to a number of them where they do, where, you know, pan am 103, some of the other in-flight explosive events but then you also have ones caused by mechanical failure such as TWA 800. So I think people are also adding into that, to me, the very, very alarming facts that came out of the Paris airport at the end of last year where they had identified 57 people on terror watch lists, and by the way, Paris was not alone. There were other airports in Europe, including Brussels, where they had identified persons, and one of the participants in the Paris attacks, in the Brussels attacks, had purchased 10 detonators near Paris. So I think people are adding up the likelihood of it -- all this terror connections come to fruition but also looking at prior disasters where terrorism played a role.

[11:25:13] BOLDUAN: Peter, I want to bring you in.

You know, you have investigators who obviously are on the ground looking into the ground crew, anyone who had access to this part of the airport or to the plane. That's what is obviously happening at Charles de Gaulle and the other airports where this plane was. But from kind of the NTSB/FAA inspectors' standpoint, if there is debris that is found and confirmed that it is part of this plane, what would you be looking for to see if this was a blast or if this plane broke up for another reason.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, if it was a blast, it would leave telltale markings. There would be pitting. There would be gas washing. An explosive device leaves a signature, and after TWA 800 in 1996, the NTSB actually blew up a 747 with a variety of explosive devices so that you could actually see the signatures. So investigators, if they start to get wreckage back, will look for that kind of stuff, look for sooting, look to see if the parts separated in a certain way that would imply an explosive decompression or a more stress related. So investigators will look for that. But the key above all are the data recorder and the voice recorder. And we need to get vessels into the appropriate area quickly to start looking to hear those pings.

BOLDUAN: And this is such a busy area. I mean, when you know kind of the area that this plane was last heard from, you would think that there is a better chance than not -- Justin -- let me bring in Justin Green on this -- that they would be able to locate those hopefully soon.

But before when we were talking about kind of what data that U.S. officials could be basing their theory on and why the initial theory is that it could be terrorism and that it was a bomb that brought down this plane, that initial theory, you brought up infrared satellite data that could offer some clues. What are you looking at?

JUSTIN GREEN, AVIATION ATTORNEY: I'm really speculating. I actually hate the word "conjecture." And I guess U.S. official said this is just conjecture at this point. You could line up a number of facts and say it's not terrorism too. There's been no indication that a passenger was related to a terrorist organization. There's been no claim of responsibility. And you could line up the same facts and say, well, it's at a safe altitude, a safe part of flight. So I think conjecture is the wrong way. But the people, the sources that CNN has, may actually know a lot more than they're letting on right now. So the Egyptians saying it's more likely terrorism --


BOLDUAN: Than technical.

GREEN: It didn't really surprise me as much. I don't like that. I think the investigation --


BERMAN: But it is surprising in that Egypt -- in 1999, the EgyptAir crash with the United States, officials say it was piloted down on purpose. Egypt still to this day doesn't say so. The Russian plane --


BOLDUAN: History shows they slow-walk these conversations.

BERMAN: The Russian plane went down because of some kind of soda can bomb. Egypt took months and months to come out and say yes. They slow-walked it. This time, they didn't.

GREEN: My firm represented the 990 families, and I agree with you 100 percent. But remember they slow-walked the other two events where the blame was on them.

If this is a terrorist attack, a terrorist bomb where the bomb got on in France, it's really on Egypt. So the same reason why they might slow-walk the prior incidents is another reason why they might do a rush to judgment in this case. But I would think that if a U.S. official has said we think this is terrorism, they may know something that supports that, depending on who it is. But conjecture, anyone can speculate at this point.

BOLDUAN: And as you said, you can line up the same amount of facts and use those to point to one conclusion and the same fact can point to another conclusion at this point. Meaning there are so many more questions than answers at this point.

But we're going to continue with that in just a second. Our breaking news is going to be continuing. U.S. officials, as we

were just discussing with Justin, their initial theory -- that's the way they're terming it -- is that a bomb took this plane down.

We'll be right back. This is CNN special coverage.