A woman at Pulkovo Airport in St Petersburg, Russia lights a candle in memory of the victims of the Airbus A321 crash. Photo: Alexander Aksakov
Hassana, Egypt: A Russian airliner 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, made the comments after inspecting the crash site on Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (third right) looks at the flight data recorder at the site where a Russian plane carrying 224 passengers crashed in Egypt on Saturday. Photo: Suliman el-Oteify
However Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi moved to cull speculation into the cause of the crash, saying the investigation could take months.
“This is a complicated matter and requires advanced technologies and broad investigations that could take months,” he told army recruits in a televised speech on Sunday.
Russian airline Kogalymavia, which operated the Airbus A321 under the brand name Metrojet, said on Sunday that all of its planes were serviced in a timely manner and tested before takeoff.
In a statement on its website, the airline said that it could not doubt the professionalism of the pilot or crew of the jet, which crashed in Egypt on Saturday killing all 224 people on board.
The airline will take its entire Airbus A321 fleet out of active service “one by one” for safety checks following an order from Russia’s transport regulator Rostransnadzor, a company official said.
THC Holding, which owns Kogalymavia, said the timing of the safety checks would be discussed with Russian transport authorities. It said its flight schedule would not be affected.
A militant group affiliated with Islamic State in Egypt, Sinai Province, said in a statement it had brought down the plane “in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land”.
Insurgents based in Sinai province have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police, and have recently also attacked Western targets.
Colourful suitcases piled up where the plane came down
Meanwhile at the scene of the crash – in a desolate area of stony ground – little of the plane remains except its blackened wreckage and a heap of colourful suitcases.
Rescue teams scoured the area where the Airbus came down on Saturday, collecting into a pile the dead holidaymakers’ belongings that were spread around the main part of the wreckage.
A pink child’s sandal decorated with white flowers lay among the debris, a reminder that 17 children were among the 224 people on board the flight from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg, all of whom died.
At least 163 of the bodies have already been recovered from the jet, operated by Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, and moved to hospitals and morgues in the capital Cairo.
On Sunday morning, about 100 Russian rescuers and investigators joined the search for remaining bodies and evidence to shed light on what happened.
Here and there clothing could be seen, packed by tourists on their way home from Sharm el-Sheikh, a favourite of Russians seeking winter sun.
Parts of the jet’s wreckage were blackened and charred, with one section forming heaps of twisted metal, although the blue Metrojet logo was still visible on its broken tail fin.
As the Russian investigators moved slowly across the site, Egyptian military helicopters buzzed overhead, combing the wider area for debris – or bodies – not yet found.
Faded smears of blood could be seen at the crash site but all the bodies found so far have already been removed, with most now lying in Cairo’s Zeinhom morgue awaiting DNA identification.
Russian experts arrived in Egypt late on Saturday night. Airport sources said they brought with them DNA samples from relatives to help identify the dead.