Families of EgyptAir MS804 passengers grieve as hopes shattered

Updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri May 20, 2016
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Story highlights

Friday prayers in Cairo's mosques were dedicated to those aboard Flight 804

Friends of the pilots and the crew console each other

(CNN) —  

Hope turned to grief Friday for friends and family of the 66 people aboard EgyptAir Flight 804 after the Egyptian military’s announcement it had found plane wreckage in the sea.

Flight 804 disappeared off radar early Thursday over the Mediterranean Sea on what should have been an easy 3½-hour trip from Paris to Cairo. By Friday, passenger belongings and parts of the aircraft were spotted near the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt, the military said.

Live updates: EgyptAir Flight 804

Friday prayers in many of Cairo’s mosques were dedicated to those aboard the flight. Outside one mosque, friends of the pilots and the crew consoled each other, many breaking down in tears. Women were clad in black to mark their mourning.

EgyptAir employee Reqqa Mohamed reeled off the names of colleagues who were on board.

“I haven’t slept since yesterday or stopped crying,” she told CNN, lifting her sunglasses to reveal swollen eyes. “I saw them the day before yesterday. I can’t take their smiles out of my mind.”

She said she spoke to them from Cairo, and that they had asked about the weather. She advised them to bring a jacket.

“I didn’t know this was the last time (I would) see them. They were all good people. … May God have mercy,” she said. “We are all in disbelief.”

Yassir Abdel Ghaffar, an uncle of the co-pilot on Flight 804, said his nephew was “a very kind person, in his humanity and sense of humor.”

“What happened is really very much unfortunate. It is not only us as a family. … The entire country is really sad about it.”

Rasha Ramez, another EgyptAir employee, spent most of Thursday night with the mother of her colleague and friend, Atef Abdel Latif. The mother refused to join prayers to honor the dead.

“His mother still holds on to hope. She says he wants to come back home,” Ramez said.

“His mother refuses to acknowledge this. We visited (her) yesterday and stayed with her until 1 a.m. She is rejecting any condolences or anything until there are official documents. She says my son didn’t die. He’s alive.”

Cairo resident Mariam Emara spoke of her friend Marwa Hamdy, a Canadian national who was on the flight.

“She is also a mother for three young boys. Two or three years ago she started her spiritual path by studying pranic healing and meditation with me. She started to heal people, whoever needs her. She used to give lectures and group meditation sessions to help people overcome their fears … and just enjoy life.

“Everyone who knew Marwa fell in love with her from the first moment. She never let anyone down, even strangers,” Emara said. “She was very helpful and supportive to everyone. Over and above she was a great wife and mother and a very good friend to her kids, sharing with them all their activities.”

Before the news of the wreckage discovery, people had taken to social media to express their grief, their worries and their hopes.

One man who called himself Mohamed Khalf asked for prayers.

“Kindly Pray for Egyptair Flight MS804…I have a friend on that plane,” his tweet said.

Murky information

The waiting has been frustrating for the dozens of family and friends seeking news at Cairo International Airport. They complained of the way unreliable information had trickled out – the airline’s vice chairman initially said Thursday that the wreckage had been found in what turned out to be a cruel false alarm.

A man at the airport couldn’t help but vent his frustration.

“We learn from other countries what happened,” he screamed to journalists as he entered the airport hall for families with six other men.

“My son …,” one of the men screamed, his tired voice preventing him from finishing the sentence.

Memories of last year’s Paris attacks

But French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said authorities were trying to do their best to keep families informed.

“It is a terrible ordeal. I was at Charles de Gaulle (Airport) yesterday,” Ayrault said. “I saw families arriving in a state of total anguish so we have to do everything we can so that the truth is rapidly unveiled.”

The memories of last year’s terror attacks that left 130 people dead in the French capital are all too fresh for those awaiting news on the EgyptAir flight, though French officials have not speculated what brought the plane down.

According to a list from EgyptAir, the 56 passengers included 30 Egyptians, 15 French nationals, one Briton, one Kuwaiti, one Saudi, one Chadian, one Portuguese from Algeria, and one Sudanese. Ten crew members were on board, the airline said.

The Canadian government confirmed that two citizens were on the flight. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond named the Briton as Richard Osman, also a national of Australia and Egypt.

Journalist Sarah Sirgany reported from Cairo, and CNN’s Don Melvin and journalist Angela Dewan wrote from London. CNN’s Eugenie Lambert, Laura Akhoun and Tiffany Ap also contributed to this report.