People light candles during a vigil at the Cairo Opera House for the 66 victims of the EgyptAir flight 804.

People light candles during a vigil at the Cairo Opera House for the 66 victims of the EgyptAir flight 804.
Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian authorities have confirmed a distress signal was received from EgyptAir flight 804 when it crashed in the Mediterranean with 66 people on board.

A US official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also said an emergency beacon was picked up by satellites minutes after the airliner disappeared from radar on 19 May as it flew from Paris to Cairo, according to reports.

A posting on Egypt's State Information Service website said investigators had "received satellite reports indicating receiving an electronic distress call from the plane's emergency locator transmitter (ELT)". The co-ordinates were being used to narrow down the search area, the statement said.

Related: EgyptAir flight 804: deep-sea hunt for 'black boxes' as week passes since crash

The plane disappeared from radar screens at 2.29am local time and the Bloomberg news agency, quoting Lieutenant Jason Wilson of the NOAA, said an ELT on the plane began transmitting at 2.36am local time. The signal was picked up by five satellites, triggering an alert to a ground station in Cyprus that confirmed the identity of the Airbus A320 and narrowed the possible crash area to about three miles.

A ground station in Maryland, US, also received "two bursts" from the satellites but not enough to pinpoint the beacon's location, Bloomberg said.

Investigators have said it will be more than a week until they can recover the plane's "black box" flight recorders when a ship capable of retrieving them arrives in the Mediterranean search zone, but teams are continuing to search for the wreckage in the meantime.

The flight recorders have enough battery power to emit signals for four or five weeks.

Egypt and France have signed agreements with two French companies specialising in deep water searches, Alseamar and Deep Ocean Search (DOS).

"Those two companies have complementary roles: the first is for locating the pings of the black boxes (the signal being emitted by the black boxes' beacon), while the second is for diving and recovering them" with the help of a robot, a source close to the investigation told Agence France-Presse in Cairo, requesting anonymity.

"But the DOS specialised ship left the Irish sea on Saturday and it will reach the perceived crash site [after around] 12 days, after having the Egyptian and French investigators embark in Alexandria."

Other sources close to the investigation confirmed the information, AFP said.

Investigators are searching for the black boxes at a depth of around 3,000m in a zone 290km (180 miles) north of the Egyptian coast.

Three of Alseamar's Detector-6000 acoustic detection systems, which submerged can detect pings at 4,000m to 5,000m below sea level, have left the French island of Corsica on board the Laplace, a French navy ship.

"While we are waiting for the DOS ship, equipped for detecting the pings in deep waters, but more importantly the robots capable of descending up to 6,000m to recover the black boxes, we will not be wasting time as Laplace will be trying to locate them in the meantime," said one of the sources.

The source added that after 12 days "there is a very good chance of recovering the flight recordings thanks to the combination of these two French companies".

Two members of the French aviation safety agency BEA are on board the Leplace.

France's aviation safety agency has said the aircraft transmitted automated messages indicating smoke in the cabin and a fault in the flight control unit minutes before losing contact.