PARIS -- The Airbus A320, the model of the EgyptAir plane that officials say crashed in the Mediterranean on Thursday, is one of the most common planes in service around the world today.
EgyptAir Flight 804 was going from Paris to Cairo with 66 passengers and crew onboard when it crashed off the Greek island of Crete early Thursday morning, Egyptian and Greek officials said.
Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos said the flight made abrupt turns and suddenly lost altitude just before vanishing from radar at around 2.45 a.m. Egyptian time.
Kammenos said the aircraft was 10-15 miles inside the Egyptian air traffic control area and at an altitude of 37,000 feet. "It turned 90 degrees left and then a 360 degree turn toward the right, dropping from 38,000 to 15,000 feet and then it was lost at about 10,000 feet," he said.
CBS News aviation and safety expert Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger was flying an A320 in 2009 when he was forced to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River known as the "Miracle on the Hudson."
"It's used worldwide," Sullenberger said on "CBS This Morning" Thursday. "It's a very reliable airplane. I know it well. I have about 5,000 hours in that series of airplanes."
Some key facts about the plane:
- Similar to the Boeing 737, the single-aisle, twin-engine jet is used to connect cities that are between one and five hours apart.
- The A320 is generally considered one of the safest passenger planes in service. Airbus says it has had 11 crashes with fatalities, on top of the Germanwings plane deliberately brought down by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz in March 2015. Overall, the A320 registered just 0.14 fatal accidents per million takeoffs, according to a Boeing safety analysis published last year.
- The first A320 entered service in 1988.
- There are nearly 4,000 A320s in operation worldwide.
- Airbus, a European plane-making group based in Toulouse, France, also makes nearly identical versions of the A320: the smaller A318 and A319 and the stretched A321. The entire fleet has accumulated nearly 180 million flight hours in over 98 million flights.
- The plane is certified to fly up to 39,000 feet, its maximum altitude before its rate of climb begins to erode. The plane has an absolute flight limit of 42,000 feet.