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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Egypt: Russian civilian airplane crashed over Sinai

Egyptian PM Sherif Ismail and his office members at the crash scene
(Image: Ahram Online)
Russian civilian airplane Airbus A-321 crashed on Saturday, 31 October, over the Central Sinai, killing all 224 people on the board, among them 217 passengers and 7 crew members.

Russian private airplane owned by Kogalymavia was on route from the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh to the city of St. Petersburg, carrying mainly tourists.

An airplane reportedly took off at about 6 a.m. local time and suddenly disappeared from the radars after thirty minutes of flight. Last signal received by the flight control authorities was sent over the mountainous Hasana area, which is nearly 35 km from the city of Al-Arish.

There were contradictory reports regarding the fate of the plane at the beginning, as some officials claimed the signal was retrieved and the plane continued its way and other reports that connection with the plane was lost somewhere over Cyprus.

Later on Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamel said at a press conference that communication between the pilot and air traffic control was normal prior to the crash and there was no SOS signal.

However, Ayman El-Moqadem, the head of an investigative committee for the investigation of the crash, stated earlier that day that the pilot reported some technical problems of the airplane and requested landing at the nearest airport. The plane reportedly got the permission to land at El-Arish airport, and the plane was descending on the way to the Northern city of El-Arish, when the signal was lost.

Russian officials also confirmed that the connection between the airplane and air traffic control was lost and the plane crashed. There were no survivors of the crash.

Thus, 224 people were killed as a result of a crash, among them 217 passengers and 7 crew members. 213 passengers were Russian citizens, 3 were Ukrainians and one was Belarusian. There were also 19 children and teenagers among the victims, including a toddler, according to Egyptian officials.

The area where the signal of the Russian plane was lost and the
site of crash
(Image: Flight Radar 24)
Egyptian military plane found later that day the wreckages of the plane. Egyptian officials, military and police personnel and ambulances headed to the scene of the crash. The plane was split in two parts, with its tail end catching fire and the main part crashed into the rock face, stated an Egyptian officer who arrived on the scene. The passengers' bodies were scattered over the area of nearly 2 square kilometers. Most of the passengers were found strapped to their seats. Almost all the bodies were already found by the rescue teams and transported to Cairo.

Russian Emergency Ministry has sent several planes in order to deliver the bodies to Russia. Russian authorities and representatives of the investigative committee were expected to arrived in Egypt later on Saturday.

Egypt, Russia and the company that produced the airplane will form an investigative committee.

The reasons of the crash are yet to be determined, stated Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail. The black boxes of the plane were found, and once the first recordings will be studied by the experts there will be possible to make the initial conclusions, according to Egyptian officials.

There are several versions of the crash, among them the version of the technical problems that caused the crash.

It's worth mention that the airplane crashed in Hasana area, which is about 35 km from El-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid cities, and the mountainous areas to the South of these cities is an epicenter of the jihadist activities in the recent times, with the increasing attacks of the local radical Islamist forces against Egyptian military and civilians as well, increased after the ouster of the Islamist backed President Mohamed Morsi.

Wreckage of the Russian airplane in Sinai
(Image: Al-Arabiya)
Local terrorist organization Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, that pledged allegiance to ISIS and is an Egyptian affiliate of this group, has claimed responsibility for the airplane crash, posting a statement on their official Twitter account and claiming the jet was shot down by the missile.
This version was denied by Egyptian Armed Forces and authorities and by the Russian officials as well. In addition to that many experts claim ISIS fighters use the shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles (Manpad). The plane was at an altitude of more than 9 km, what is beyond the range of this kind of weapon.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi had a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin where he expressed his condolences to Russian and the families of the victims and stated that the conditions for an investigation of this tragedy will be created.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared Sunday, 1 November, a day of national mourning.

Meanwhile, several airline companies including Lufthansa, Air France and KLM have temporarily restricted their flights over Egyptian territories in order to totally avoid the territory of Sinai Peninsula. This decision was taken due to the security reasons. Until the reasons of the Russian airplane crash won't be investigated, these airlines will avoid flying over Sinai, according to the spokesperson of KLM.