Russian plane crash in Egypt kills all 224 people aboard

All 224 people aboard a Russian airliner were killed early Saturday when the Airbus A321 crashed in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula shortly after takeoff from a popular Red Sea resort town, officials say.

The Metrojet flight, carrying 217 passengers and seven crewmembers, was en route from Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt to St. Petersburg when it dropped off radar screens 23 minutes into the flight.

It is believed to be the deadliest air accident in the history of Russian aviation, surpassing a 1985 disaster in Uzbekistan in which 200 people died, the Russian-run news agency RIA says.

“Unfortunately, all passengers of flight 7K9268 Sharm el-Sheikh-Petersburg were killed,” The Russian embassy in Cairo said, in Russian, on Twitter. “We express our condolences to the family and friends.”

Egyptian officials said the 7-person crew and 214 of the passengers and all of the crew were Russian and that three of the passengers were Ukrainian, RT.com reports. The victims included 17 children, aged 2 to 17, according to Russian authorities.

St. Petersburg Gov. Georgy Poltavchenko, however, told reporters that one of the three victims described as Ukrainian citizens was actually from the former Soviet republic of Belarus, RIA reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a statement expressing his condolences to the families of the victims and declared a day of mourning. A team of Russian investigators was sent immediately to Egypt, according to Russia’s Emergencies Ministry, the Russian state-run news agency RIA reports.

Officials said 129 bodies and two black boxes with flight data from the plane were found at the crash site, according to RIA. The Russian news outlet Life-News published and tweeted the first photos from the site, showing smoking wreckage spread out on desolate terrain.

In a statement on its website, Moscow-based Metrojet says the A321 received required factory maintenance in 2014. The statement identified the captain of the plane as Valery Nemov and said he had 12,000 air hours of experience, including 3,860 in A321s.

The airline, also known as Kogalymavia, tells the Russian Interfax news agency that it does not believe human error was behind the crash. The airline also said it was arranging flights to Egypt for relatives of the victims.

Bodies of the victims of the Russian Airbus air crash were being taken to a morgue in Cairo.

All 224 people aboard a Russian airliner were killed early Saturday when the Airbus A321 crashed in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula shortly after takeoff from a popular Red Sea resort town, officials say.

The Metrojet flight, carrying 217 passengers and seven crewmembers, was en route from Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt to St. Petersburg when it dropped off radar screens 23 minutes into the flight.

It is believed to be the deadliest air accident in the history of Russian aviation, surpassing a 1985 disaster in Uzbekistan in which 200 people died, the Russian-run news agency RIA says.

“Unfortunately, all passengers of flight 7K9268 Sharm el-Sheikh-Petersburg were killed,” The Russian embassy in Cairo said, in Russian, on Twitter. “We express our condolences to the family and friends.”

Egyptian officials said the 7-person crew and 214 of the passengers and all of the crew were Russian and that three of the passengers were Ukrainian, RT.com reports. The victims included 17 children, aged 2 to 17, according to Russian authorities.

St. Petersburg Gov. Georgy Poltavchenko, however, told reporters that one of the three victims described as Ukrainian citizens was actually from the former Soviet republic of Belarus, RIA reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a statement expressing his condolences to the families of the victims and declared a day of mourning. A team of Russian investigators was sent immediately to Egypt, according to Russia’s Emergencies Ministry, the Russian state-run news agency RIA reports.

Officials said 129 bodies and two black boxes with flight data from the plane were found at the crash site, according to RIA. The Russian news outlet Life-News published and tweeted the first photos from the site, showing smoking wreckage spread out on desolate terrain.

In a statement on its website, Moscow-based Metrojet says the A321 received required factory maintenance in 2014. The statement identified the captain of the plane as Valery Nemov and said he had 12,000 air hours of experience, including 3,860 in A321s.

The airline, also known as Kogalymavia, tells the Russian Interfax news agency that it does not believe human error was behind the crash. The airline also said it was arranging flights to Egypt for relatives of the victims.

Bodies of the victims of the Russian Airbus air crash were being taken to a morgue in Cairo.

Russian investigators searched the Metrojet offices, the AP reported. Officers of Russia’s top investigative body, the Investigative Committee, were also questioning Metrojet employees and doing the same at the St. Petersburg-based Brisco tour agency that had contracted for the flight from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg.

Spokesman Vladimir Markin also said investigators are taking samples of fuel from the airport in Samara where the plane was last fueled.

There was no other immediate word on the cause of the crash, although the Egyptian government ruled out the possibility that it could have been shot down.

The Islamic State group’s affiliate in Egypt, however, claimed it was responsible for the crash, the AFP news agency reported. “The soldiers of the caliphate succeeded in bringing down a Russian plane in Sinai,” said the statement circulated on social media, according to AFP. The claim could not immediately be verified.

The Russian Transport Minister quickly dismissed the claim, saying it “cannot be considered reliable,” Interfax News reports.

Both the German carrier Lufthansa and the French airline Air France said their planes would avoid flying over the Sinai Peninsula for safety reasons until further notice.

An Egyptian aviation official says the pilot of the Airbus A321 had reported technical difficulties before losing contact with air traffic controllers. Ayman al-Muqadem, a member of the Aviation Incidents Committee, said the pilot had reported his intention to attempt to land at the nearest airport.

An unidentified source in Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency told RIA that the plane took off from Sharm El-Sheikh, a popular Red Sea resort, early Saturday and disappeared from air traffic controllers’ radar screens 23 minutes later after reaching an altitude of 31,000 feet.

Police open the way for ambulances carrying the bodies of passengers of a Russian airliner which crashed in Sinai, into a morgue in Cairo, Egypt, October 31, 2015. The Airbus A321, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, carrying 224 passengers crashed into a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai peninsula on Saturday shortly after losing radar contact near cruising altitude, killing all aboard.

“The plane split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rock. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside,” an unidentified Egyptian official told the Reuters news agency.

“I now see a tragic scene. A lot of dead on the ground and many died while strapped to their seats,” the official said. Dozens of ambulances were scrambled to the crash site.

Egyptian security forces quoted by Reuters blamed the crash on a technical fault. The sources say the Airbus took almost a vertical trajectory as it plummeted down.

Search and rescue teams found bodies as far away as 3 miles from the crash site, Reuters adds. At least 150 bodies were pulled from the wreckage itself. Large parts of the fuselage burned in the crash.

The Sinai is a sparsely populated and rugged desert region sandwiched between the southern Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

Sharm el-Sheikh is a resort city known for its sandy beaches. It is a popular destination for divers. But the mountainous area away from the coast harbors Islamist insurgent groups who have staged numerous attacks in the peninsula and in Cairo.

Charlie Winter, a London-based extremism researcher at Quilliam, said on Twitter that any militants operating in the region where the plane went down would not have had weapons capable of hitting the plane at its projected altitude.

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail confirmed the Airbus A321 jet crashed after earlier conflicting reports suggested the plane may have simply lost contact with air traffic controllers somewhere over Turkish airspace.

Alternative Airlines, an online travel agency, describes Metrojet as “an airline based in the oil producing town of Kogalym in the Urals region of Russia.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, who was on an official visit to the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, expressed his condolences to Putin and the Russian people, the Associated Press reports. “We don’t know any details about it, but obviously the initial reports represent tremendous tragedy, loss, and we extend our condolences to the families and all those concerned.”

Kim Hjelmgaard and Doug Stanglin