Emirates, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM are among airlines avoiding flying over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula after an Airbus A321-200, operated by a Russian tourist airline, crashed there in mysterious circumstances on Saturday. The crash killed all 224 people aboard: 192 adults, 25 children and seven crew.
Terrorist group ISIS has claimed responsibility for downing the plane, though it didn’t say how it had done so. The claim has been dismissed by Egypt and Russia.
Even though the ISIS claim is officially considered to be unlikely, or fabricated, Lufthansa confirmed it will now avoid the area “until it is clear what caused the crash”.
A Lufthansa spokeswoman told Reuters the German carrier operated fewer than 10 flights a day over the region.
Air France-KLM confirmed it was taking the same precaution and steering clear of the Sinai peninsula.
Emirates said it was “currently avoiding flying over the Sinai peninsula until more information is available”.
Authorities in Egypt and Russia yesterday denied any terrorism link in the crash, one of the deadliest Airbus crashes in the past decade and the worst air crash in Russian history.
The plane, owned by an Irish company and leased to Russian airline Metrojet (formerly Kogalym Avia, or Kolavia) broke up at high altitude and came down in a desert region. Rescue workers spoke of bodies found still strapped in their seats and mobile phones ringing amid the wreckage. The plane’s flight recorders have been recovered and are being examined by experts to determine the cause of the disaster.
The flight was heading from the resort of Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt to St Petersburg in Russia. It crashed 23 minutes after takeoff, having reached a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet, usually considered the safest part of a flight. Debris is spread over a wide area south of Al-Arish, Sinai, Egypt.
Reports have quoted Natalya Trukhacheva, identified as the wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukhachev, telling Russian state-controlled NTV in an interview that her husband had complained about the plane’s condition.
She said a daughter “called him up before he flew out. He complained before the flight that the technical condition of the aircraft left much to be desired.”
The crashed plane was reportedly 18 years old and had suffered a “tail strike” accident on 16 November 2001 on landing at Cairo (while owned and operated by Middle East Airlines) when its tail had struck the tarmac and caused significant damage. Whether that had anything to do with the crash so many years later will be something investigators will look at.
The Aviation Herald cited an Egyptian report that the captain of the flight reported technical problems and requested to return to Sharm el Sheikh.
However Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamel told a news conference the plane had “suddenly disappeared from the radar” and air traffic control recordings did not show any distress calls from the pilot.
Written by Peter Needham