CAIRO – A Russian airliner carrying more than 200 passengers crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Saturday morning, Egypt’s government and Russia’s Federal Aviation Agency said. No one survived the crash, the Russian Embassy in Egypt said.
Egyptian military planes first spotted the wreckage in a mountainous area in the central part of Sinai, about 180 miles east of Cairo, Egypt’s cabinet said in a statement on Saturday. Civil Aviation Minister Mohamed Hossam Kamel said the cause of the crash had not been determined, according to the statement.
An Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula claims to have brought down the plane in a statement circulated online on Saturday. The statement did not specify how the militants claimed to have caused the plane to crash.
The northern part of Sinai is rife with militancy, and local jihadists have fired on Egyptian aircraft with surface-to-air missiles in the past. But Egyptian officials and aviation experts said on Saturday that there was no indication the Russian airliner had been shot down.
And Russian officials say they have opened an investigation for gross negligence and safety violations that may have led to the crash. In a statement released on Saturday afternoon, Russia’s Investigative Committee said it was searching the Moscow offices of the airline, Kogalymavia, which flies under the brand Metrojet, and the airline’s facilities at Domodedovo International Airport. Airline employees would be interviewed and the quality of fuel used by Metrojet on its flights would be looked at.
Still, Air France-KLM and German carrier Lufthansa both said on Saturday that they would avoid flying over the Sinai Peninsula due to the unclear circumstances of the crash, the Reuters news agency reported.
The Metrojet airliner “disappeared” over Sinai shortly after takeoff, the Russian aviation agency said. Egyptian authorities said the plane was in the air for about 25 minutes and had reached 31,000 feet before it went down just after sunrise.
The Airbus A320 was carrying 217 passengers and seven crew members, and had taken off from the airport at Egypt’s Red Sea resort at Sharm al-Sheikh. The plane was bound for St. Petersburg, according to a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Civil Aviation carried by the official state news agency.
Airbus said in a statement that the plane was built in 1997 and had accumulated more than 56,000 hours of flight time. Metrojet acquired the plane in 2012, the statement said.
Fifteen bodies had been recovered and were being airlifted to Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo. According to the cabinet, the passengers included three Ukrainian nationals, 138 women, 62 men and 17 children.
The Egyptian prime minister’s office said it was forming an emergency crisis cell to “follow up on the situation.” An employee of the ministry reached by telephone said there was an order not to respond to inquiries from journalists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “his deepest condolences” to the families of those who died in the crash, the Kremlin press service reported.
Putin ordered that Russian rescue workers be sent to the site of the crash and that a government review of the crash be established in Moscow. Putin also spoke to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi by telephone, a statement from Sissi’s office said on Saturday. The two leaders agreed to coordinate investigation efforts, the statement said.
Russian tourists flock to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula every year, where temperatures remain warm throughout the winter. Tourism is one of Egypt’s main sources of foreign currency, but the industry has suffered from political violence and turmoil in the wake of the Arab Spring. Earlier this year, Egyptian Tourism Minister Khaled Abbas Rami said about 3 million Russian tourists traveled to Egypt in 2014, mostly to visit resorts along the Red Sea.
The Russian charter flight crashed in the area of al-Hasana, south of the North Sinai city of al-Arish, Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency said. The usual duration for the flight is 4 hours 42 minutes, authorities said.