A woman lights a candle at Pulkovo international airport outside Saint Petersburg on November 1, 2015. Russia mourned its biggest ever air disaster after a passenger jet full of Russian tourists crashed in Egypt's Sinai, killing all 224 people on board. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: An Egyptian ground service official who carried out a pre-flight inspection of the Russian passenger plane that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula said on Sunday that the Airbus A321-200 appeared to be in good condition.

The Metrojet plane, bound for St. Petersburg in Russia, crashed 23 minutes after it took off from Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm Al Shaikh on Saturday morning. The 224 people on board, all Russian except for four Ukrainians, died.

The Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said he was a member of a technical inspection team that included two Russians.

"We are all shocked. It was a good plane. Everything checked out in 35 minutes," the official told The Associated Press. The closest the plane came to being in trouble, he said, was three months ago when the pilot aborted takeoff halfway through because of a system error. "That's almost routine though," he said.

However, a Russian TV channel late on Saturday quoted the wife of the co-pilot as saying her husband had complained about the plane's condition. Natalya Trukhacheva, identified as the wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukhachev, 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."

Another Egyptian official had previously said that before the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers the pilot had radioed and said the aircraft was experiencing technical problems and that he intended to try and land at the nearest airport.

163 bodies arrive in Cairo

Bodies of 163 victims of a Russian plane crash in Egypt's Sinai have been flown to Cairo, the Egyptian government said on Sunday, while Russian prosecutors revealed that the crew of the crashed plane underwent medical tests prior to the flight.

All 224 people onboard Kogalymavia flight 9268 were killed in the crash on Saturday.

On Sunday, the bodies were transported to several mortuaries and hospitals in Cairo as a research operation for the remainder of the victims continues in a remote area in Sinai, the government added in a statement.

Teams of Russian investigators and rescuers arrived aboard three government aircraft in Cairo late Saturday to join Egyptians handling the aftermath of the crash.

The teams are led by Russia's Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov and  Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov.

The Airbus A321 plunged on Saturday in the area of Al Hassana, 70 kilometres south of the Sinai town of Al Arish less than half an hour after taking off from the popular Red Sea resort town of Sharm Al Shaikh.

Both Egypt and Russia dismissed a claim by a Sinai group loyal to the terrorist Daesh that it had brought down the plane. Egyptian officials suggested that the crash was a result of a technical fault. The flight data recorder or the black box was retrieved from the plane wreckage and is being examined, officials said.

The crew members of the crashed airline underwent medical tests before the flight and no problems were detected, Russian prosecutors said.

Airlines stop flying to Sinai

Emirates and flydubai have stopped flying over Egypt's Sinai peninsula after a Russian passenger plane carrying 224 people crashed in the area, the airline said on Sunday.

Sharjah-based Air Arabia has also said it is no longer flying over the area “as a precautionary measure and until further information is available.” Air France and Lufthansa also said they will stop flights to Sinai peninsula.

Kogalymavia flight 9268 crashed shortly after taking off from Sharm Al Shaikh on Saturday. It was scheduled to land in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The circumstances of the crash are unclear but a Daesh affiliate has claimed responsibility, saying it had shot down the airplane operated by Russian airline Metrojet. Russia’s Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov has reportedly said the claim “can’t be considered accurate”.

An Emirates spokesperson told Gulf News the airline “is currently avoiding flying over the Sinai peninsula until more information is available.”

Emirates flies twice daily to the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and flies over the Sinai on other routes in the Middle East and North Africa.

The airline said it is “closely monitoring the situation.” “The safety of our crew and passengers are our top priority," the spokesperson said by email.

A flydubai spokesperson said the airline has “rerouted” flights “around the Sinai Peninsula.”

Air France and Lufthansa said Saturday they were taking the measure as a precaution while the cause of the Russian crash was investigated.

The Daesh affiliate in Egypt has said it downed the plane, without saying how, but Russia's transport minister said the claim "cannot be considered accurate" and an Egyptian security official said the plane did not crash because of an attack.

An Air France spokesperson told AFP they would not fly over Sinai until further notice, "as a precaution" while "clarification" was sought over why the Russian charter plane crashed.

Lufthansa told the German newspaper Die Welt it was taking the same measure for the same reason.

Military experts have told AFP that Daesh terrorists in Sinai do not have weapons capable of hitting an aircraft at 30,000 feet (9,000 metres), the altitude of the airliner when it lost contact.

But they have not ruled out a bomb on board or the possibility that the plane was hit by a rocket as it descended because of technical problems.

A senior Egyptian air traffic control official said the pilot of the Airbus A321 told him in their last communication that he had radio trouble.

Egypt recovers black box of crashed Russian plane: govt

Egypt has recovered the black box of a Russian airliner that crashed Saturday in the restive Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board, the prime minister's office said, reported AFP.

"The black box was recovered from the tail of the plane and has been sent to be analysed by experts," the office of Prime Minister Sharif Ismail said, adding that rescuers had recovered 129 bodies from the site of the crash.

Ismail later told a press conference that experts will "start examining the information in the black box, and based on this we will study the causes of the crash".


129 bodies retrieved from Russian plane, says Egyptian premier

Cairo: 129 dead bodies have been retrieved from the wreckage of a Russian plane that crashed with 224 people aboard in the Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian Prime Minister Sharif Esmail said Saturday evening.

“Chances for finding survivors are almost non-existent,” Ismail told a press conference in Cairo shortly after his return from the site of the crash in central Sinai.

“Determining the causes of the plane fall lies in analysing the data of the black box.”

Egyptian television earlier on Saturday reported the flight data recorder had been retrieved.

Esmail said that a Russian team was expected to arrive in Egypt later Saturday to join Egyptian counterparts searching for bodies of other victims.

“We continue search efforts for other victims in an area of a diameter of eight kilometres. It is expected that the search area will be expanded,” he said.

The plane crashed in a mountainous area near the Al Arish airport shortly after it departed from the resort town of Sharm Al Shaikh in South Sinai. It was heading to the Russian city of St Petersburg.

Minister of Civil Aviation Hossam Kamal denied reports that the pilot of the airliner had requested air controllers for permission to make an emergency landing allegedly due to a technical fault.

“The pilot did not make any distress call,” the official told the same press conference.

“The plane suddenly disappeared from the radar.”

Russia denies Daesh claim

Moscow said Saturday that it was sceptical of claims by the Daesh's Egyptian affiliate to have downed a Russian passenger jet in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people onboard, AFP reported.

"This information cannot be considered accurate," transport minister Maksim Sokolov said in comments cited by Russian news agencies. "We are in close contact with our Egyptian colleagues and aviation authorities in the country. At present, they have no information that would confirm such insinuations," he added.

Daesh claims responsibility

A militant group affiliated to Daesh in Egypt claimed responsibility for the downing of the Russian passenger plane, the group said in a statement circulated by supporters on Twitter, reports Reuters. The claim of responsibility was also carried by the Aamaq website which acts as a semi official news agency for Daesh.

 Technical breakdown caused plane crash

Cairo: An initial examination of the wreckage of the Russian plane showed that a sudden technical breakdown was behind its crash, Egyptian security sources said.

The aircraft fell down perpendicularly, resulting in having parts of it in flames and crashing over a large uninhabited area in North Sinai, the sources added, according to Al Ahram.

Pilot of the airliner had planned to make an emergency landing at the Cairo airport, one source said.

Some 150 dead bodies were found out of the 224 people who were aboard the plane, medical officials said.

Khalifa, Mohammad send condolence cables

President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has sent a cable of condolences to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the death of those on board the Russian passenger plane that crashed in Sinai, Egypt, WAM reported.

Shaikh Khalifa expressed his heartfelt condolences to the Russian president and the families of the victims of this tragic incident.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum , Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, have also sent similar cables of condolences to the Russian president.

'All passengers dead'

All passengers on the Russian flight from Egypt died when the plane crashed in the Sinai peninsula Saturday, the Russian embassy said in a statement, reports AFP from Moscow.

"Unfortunately, all passengers of Kogalymavia flight 9268 Sharm El Shaikh - Saint Petersburg have died. We issue condolences to family and friends," said a message on the embassy's Facebook page, referring to the flight carrying 217 passengers and seven crew.

214 Russians, 3 Ukrainians aboard the ill-fated plane

Cairo: The Egyptian government said there were 217 passengers aboard the plane that crashed, including 214 Russians and three Ukrainians.

There were 138 women, 62 men and 17 children aboard, according to the passenger list, said the statement. There was no information about the nationalities of the seven crew members.

The ill-fated airliner was an 18-years old Airbus 321, the government said in the statement.

The plane had arrived in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm Al Shaikh at 17.30 Cairo time Friday and departed Saturday morning.

100 bodies retrieved from plane crash site

Egyptian authorities have retrieved the bodies of at least 100 people killed in a Russian passenger plane crash in Egypt, state media reported on Saturday.

The bodies have been flown from North Sinai to Cairo, while body parts of other victims are being collected for identification, Al Ahram newspaper reported, quoting medical sources in North Sinai.

There were 224 people aboard the aircraft when it crashed in a mountainous area near the city of Al Arish in North Sinai, according to Egyptian aviation authorities. Among the dead were 17 children, the head of Egypt's civil aviation authority said.

Pilot asked for emergency landing before crash 

The pilot of the Russian plane with 224 people aboard had asked Egyptian aviation authorities for an emergency landing shortly after departure from an airport at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm Al Shaikh in South Sinai, newspaper Al Ahram reported, citing an unnamed aviation official.

"The captain of the plane requested permission to land at the nearest airport because of a problem in the wireless device. Then contact was the lost with the plane and disappeared from the radar," the official said.

The plane crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula on Saturday. Wreckage was found in the area of Al Hasana, around 70 kilometres from the city of Al Arish in North Sinai.

Voices heard from plane

Egyptian search and rescue team members sent to scour the crash site have heard voices in a section of the crashedRussian plane, an officer on the scene told Reuters.

"There is another section of the plane with passengers inside that the rescue team is still trying to enter and we hope to find survivors especially after hearing pained voices of people inside," said the officer, who requested anonymity.

The office of Prime Minister Sharif Esmail confimed that the Russian passenger plane had crashed in central Sinai. In a statement, Esmail said that a cabinet level crisis committee has been formed to deal with the crash.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has ordered Russian rescue teams to head to the crash site. Putin has declared November 1 as a national day of mourning in Russia after the plane crash.

Russia has launched a case against airline Kogalymavia amid reports that the crew of the crashed Airbus A-321 had reported engine problems during the week, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Wreckage found

An Egyptian rescue team has located the wreckage of crashed plane in southern Arish in Sinai and found the aircraft completely destroyed, a security official said.

There were no indications that the plane was shot down, Egyptian security sources said. Egypt's North Sinai is home to a two-year-old insurgency and militants affiliated to Daesh have killed hundreds of soldiers and police.

A senior aviation official said it was a charter flight operated by a Russian company and had on board 217 passengers and seven crew members. Communication with the Airbus A-321 aircraft was lost, he added.

A statement carried by Egypt's state-run Mena agency said that flight 9268 took off from Sinai's Sharm Al Shaikh, a popular destination for Russian tourists, at 5.51am local time and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes after takeoff.

The plane was bound for St. Petersburg's Pulkovo in Russia. The plane is operated by the Russian airline Kogalymavia based in West Siberia.

The sources said the passenger plane was mainly carrying Russian tourists and that a search was underway.

 With inputs from Alex ander Cornwell, Ramadan Al Sherbini and agencies