EgyptAir Flight 804 Crash: U.S. Intelligence — Plane Dropped ‘Like A Rock,’ Unclear If Explosion On Board

EgyptAir Flight 804, which disappeared from radar screens over the Mediterranean Sea early Thursday morning, simply “fell like a rock” from the skies, according to a source with an undisclosed United States intelligence agency that spoke to CBS News later in the day.

But whether the plane suffered an explosion on board remains uncertain after U.S. intelligence analysts examined surveillance imagery from the area where the authorities believe the plane crashed with 66 people on board.

Initially, the source speaking to CBS News said that the images did not show signs of an explosion on board the plane. But later on Thursday, intelligence sources and U.S. administration officials painted a different picture.

“A senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the region told NBC News infrared and multi-spectral images strongly suggest there was an explosion aboard the plane,” a report on stated.

Watch an NBC report on the EgyptAir Flight 804 disappearance with more information about the U.S. intelligence assessment of the incident in the video below.

The EgyptAir Airbus A320-232 — which bore the number SU-GCC and is pictured above on this page in a photograph taken of an earlier flight — disappeared at about 2:30 a.m. Eastern European Time on Thursday morning, which would be 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night United States Eastern Time, 5:30 p.m. Pacific.

The plane was en route from Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, France, to Cairo, disappearing about 200 miles from its destination. As of 11 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time Thursday night, no wreckage from the plane had been located by searchers in the Mediterranean.

Earlier reports of wreckage discovered in the Mediterranean Sea turned out to be a false alarm, authorities said.

The plane disappeared out of clear skies, reportedly, as it transitioned from one air traffic control zone to another, a stage of flight during which planes typically lose contact with ground controllers for a brief period. In this case, the EgyptAir plane was moving from Greek to Egyptian airspace.

On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 also disappeared while moving between what aviators call Flight Information Regions, also under clear skies.

But authorities, while still uncertain as to what caused the apparent crash of EgyptAir Flight 804, seem to have more information about the plane’s final moments than ever became available in the Malaysia Airlines disappearance.

According to Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, the plane swerved wildly before plunging about 17,000 feet and disappearing.

The EgyptAir Airbus “executed a turn of 90 degrees left and then a turn of 360 degrees toward the right, dropping from 37,000 to 15,000 feet, and then the picture we had was lost at about 10,000 feet,” Kemmenos said on Thursday.

According to aviation experts quoted by NBC in the video below, such sudden sharp turns would not be carried out by commercial airliners under any normal circumstances.

While neither intelligence sources nor Egyptian and Greek authorities were prepared by Friday morning to blame the disappearance of EgyptAir Flight 804 on a terrorist incident of some kind — and no claims of responsibility by terror groups such as ISIS had been issued on Thursday — one prominent individual immediately arrived at the conclusion that terrorists destroyed the plane.

United States Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump quickly declared that EgyptAir Flight 804 had been “blown out of the sky,” by terrorists.

“If anybody thinks it wasn’t blown out of the sky, you’re 100 percent wrong folks, OK?” Trump added during a campaign speech.

Trump also blamed his prospective opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, as well as U.S. President Barack Obama, for the EgyptAir tragedy.

“She and our totally ignorant President won’t even use the term Radical Islamic Terrorism,” Trump said on Thursday. “And by the way, ask Hillary who blew up the plane last night — another terrible, but preventable tragedy. She has bad judgment and is unfit to serve as President at this delicate and difficult time in our country’s history.”

Clinton later responded in an interview with CNN, dismissing Trump’s qualifications to become president.

“I know how hard this job is, and I know that we need steadiness as well as strength and smarts in it, and I have concluded he is not qualified to be president of the United States,” Clinton said.

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U.S. intelligence officials also told NBC News that they were searching for signs of “chatter” among terrorist groups that might indicate a plot against EgyptAir Flight 804, but as of Thursday night had found no evidence that terrorism had caused the crash — though neither a terrorist attack nor any other cause had been ruled out.

[Featured Photo By Mehmet Mustafa Celik / Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License]