A Russian airliner which crashed in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people on board, broke up in mid-air, a Russian official says, BBC reports. Victor Sorochenko, the head of Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee, said it was too early to conclude what caused the crash on Saturday. He told reporters debris was found across a 20sq km-wide area of Sinai. So far 163 bodies have been found.
Russia is observing a day of mourning after its worst air disaster. Mr Sorochenko spoke after visiting the site of the debris, near the village of Hasana. Jihadists allied to so-called Islamic State in Sinai, where such groups are active, had made a claim on social media that they had brought down flight KGL9268. But Egyptian Prime Minister Sharif Ismail said experts had confirmed that a plane could not be downed at 9,450m (31,000ft), the altitude the Airbus 321 was flying at, by weapons the militants are known to possess.
President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi also urged caution on Sunday, saying the investigation into the cause was a “complicated matter” that could take months. Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov said no evidence had been seen that indicated the plane was targeted, and IS has not produced pictures or video footage to substantiate its claim.
Analysis by BBC Monitoring found that a video purporting to show the downing of a plane did not appear to be an official IS clip, and was not shared on official IS channels. Three airlines – Emirates, Air France and Lufthansa – have decided not to fly over the Sinai Peninsula until more information is available. Two smaller carriers, flydubai and Air Arabia, also said they would re-route flights.
British Airways and easyJet said they were not currently intending to alter their routes. The Kogalymavia Airbus A-321 came down early on Saturday, shortly after leaving the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for the Russian city of St Petersburg. Russian and French investigators have joined the Egyptian-led probe, along with experts from Airbus, which is headquartered in France.
Egyptian officials said some bodies had been recovered within a radius of 5km on Saturday, but that of a three-year-old girl was found 8km from the scene. The plane’s black boxes have been found and sent for analysis, officials said. Egypt’s civil aviation minister Hossam Kamal said there had been no sign of any problems on board the flight, contradicting earlier reports that the pilot had asked to make an emergency landing.
The widow of the plane’s co-pilot told Russian TV her husband had complained about the aircraft’s technical condition. The BBC’s Sally Nabil in Cairo says the crash has been a major blow to Egypt’s already struggling tourism industry, and the Egyptian authorities are trying hard to accelerate the investigation process. The plane was carrying 217 passengers, including 25 children, Russian transport authorities said. There were seven crew members on board.
Egyptian officials had said 213 of the passengers were Russian and four were Ukrainian, but Russian officials said at least one of the victims was from Belarus. The bodies of 163 victims have so far been recovered and taken to Cairo. The first bodies to be returned to Russia are expected to be flown to St Petersburg on Sunday.
One un-named official told Reuters the plane appeared to have split in two, with one part burning up and the other crashing into a rock.