Russian plane crash: Aircraft broke up in the air, says official

Irish team to travel to Egypt to help investigation as Russia ‘stops’ Kogalymavia flights

Russian authorities report that as fragments of the Russian airplane that crashed in Egypt are scattered over a wide area suggests that the Airbus A321 broke up in the air at a great altitude. Video: Reuters


A Russian passenger plane that crashed in Egypt on Saturday broke up in the air, a Russian aviation official said on Sunday.

Viktor Sorochenko, an official with the Intergovernmental Aviation Committee, said it was too early to talk about conclusions from the crash, Russian news agencies reported.

Mr Sorochenko made the comments after inspecting the crash site.

His statement came as the Department of Transport confirmed its Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) will send a team to Cairo, Egypt, to assist in the investigation of the crash.

The team will fly out from Baldonnel on Monday.

Russia has also grounded Airbus A321 jets flown by the Kogalymavia airline, Interfax news agency reported on Sunday, after the crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which killed all 224 people on board.

The A321, operated by the Russian airline under the brand name Metrojet, was carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg when it went down soon after daybreak on Saturday.

Interfax said the Russian transport regulator Rostransnadzor had told Kogalymavia to stop flying A321 aircraft until the causes of the crash were known.

However, RIA news agency cited a Kogalymavia representative as saying that the airline had not received the order from Rostransnadzor.

The aircraft had the registration number EI-ETJ, meaning it was registered in Ireland.

Egyptian and Russian investigators in Cairo are to examine the contents of two “black box” recorders recovered from the airliner, which crashed into a mountainous area of central Sinai shortly after losing radar contact near cruising altitude.

It was not clear how long the contents of the recorders would take to retrieve.

A militant group affiliated to Islamic State in Egypt said in a statement that it brought down the plane “in response to Russian air strikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land”, but Russia’s transport minister Maxim Sokolov said the claim “can’t be considered accurate”.

Three carriers based in the United Arab Emirates airlines - Emirates, Air Arabia and Flydubai - said on Sunday they were re-routing flights to avoid flying over Sinai.

Two of Europe’s largest carriers, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, have already said they would avoid flying over peninsula while awaiting an explanation of the cause.

British Airways has said it is not altering its routes.

Black boxes

Egyptian prime minister Sherif Ismail told a news conference late on Saturday that there did not appear to be any unusual activity behind the crash but added that further investigations need to be carried out.

Russian transport prosecutors have already examined the quality of the fuel used by the airliner and found that it met necessary requirements, Russia’s state-run RIA news agency said.

The crew had also undergone medical tests recently and no problems were detected, Interfax reported.

At least 163 bodies had already been recovered and transported to various hospitals including Zeinhom morgue in Cairo, according to a cabinet statement.

Russian experts visited the morgue on Saturday night and Russia’s emergency minister said in a televised statement that 120 bodies had been examined and were being prepared to return home.

They were expected to begin arriving in St Petersburg late on Sunday or early on Monday.

Those on board included 214 Russians, at least three Ukrainians and one Belarusian, most returning from holidays on the Red Sea.

The Russian flag was flying at half-mast over the Russian embassy in Cairo on Sunday morning. President Vladimir Putin has declared a day of national mourning in Russia.

Crash site

Emergency services and aviation specialists resumed their search at the crash site which is spread over more than 15sq km early on Sunday with 100 Russian emergency workers on their way to help recover bodies and gather evidence.

Sinai is the scene of an insurgency by militants close to Islamic State, who have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police and have also attacked Western targets in recent months. Much of the Sinai is a restricted military zone.

Militants in the area are not believed to have missiles capable of hitting a plane at 30,000ft.

Russia, an ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State on September 30th.

Islamic State websites have in the past claimed responsibility for actions that have not been conclusively attributed to them.

Officials say there is no evidence to suggest so far that a bomb could have brought down the plane.

The aircraft took off at 5.51 am Cairo time (3.51am Irish time) and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes later at an altitude of 31,000ft.

According to flight-tracking service FlightRadar24, the aircraft was descending rapidly at about 1.8km per minute when the signal was lost to air traffic control.