Wednesday 19 June 2019

Black box data reveals 'sound of explosion', says Russia

Vladimir Putin lays flowers at Red Square in Moscow. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Vladimir Putin lays flowers at Red Square in Moscow. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Roland Oliphant in Moscow

Russian plane crash investigators last night claimed that the first detailed examination of the black boxes onboard the jet that crashed in Egypt revealed a "sound of explosion".

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin suspended all Russian flights to Egypt amid mounting concerns that the Sinai airliner crash was caused by a terrorist bomb. A Kremlin spokesman said that the suspension would remain in place until a "proper level of aviation security" had been established in Egyptian airports.

The announcement came amid reports that the cockpit voice reporter on the Metrojet Airbus A321-200 had picked up the sound of an explosion.

It marks a dramatic U-turn by Moscow, after Mr Putin criticised British Prime Minister David Cameron for grounding UK flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh before an inquiry into the cause of the disaster was complete.

The US Department of Homeland Security has also announced that they will be implimenting "aviation security enhancements" on US-bound flights from certain airports.

While the step is precautionary, it indicates concern that last weekend's crash may not have been an isolated incident.

In a terse 10-minute telephone call on Thursday, Mr Putin had told Mr Cameron that any assessment should await "the data that would become available in the course of the official investigation".

However, the head of the Russian FSB intelligence agency, Alexander Bortnikov, startled observers yesterday by recommending all Russian flights to Egypt should be grounded.

"I think it will be reasonable to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt until we determine the real reasons of what happened. It concerns tourist flights most of all," he said.

Emergency situations minister Vladimir Puchkov confirmed that wreckage from the aircraft had been brought to Moscow for testing for traces of explosives.

"These are necessary samples from all parts where traces of explosives could be. All of these samples have been delivered to Moscow, and we are studying them," he said.

US officials meanwhile said that intercepted communications by militants in the Sinai supported the suggestion that Islamic State's affiliate in the area had planted a bomb on the airliner.

In London, British Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that a bomb in the hold of the Metrojet plane was "a high probability".

"We've made our position very clear on that, that we think that is a high probability," he said.

"We are obviously waiting for final confirmation of that, but we felt it was right to act on the information that we got and we did act."

He warned that similar flight bans could be extended to other countries if security was found to be lax.

"What this makes clear - not just to the Egyptians but to other airports around the world: if we are concerned about their security we will not hesitate in taking the kind of action we have taken this week for the safety of British passengers," he said.

Meanwhile, other international airlines announced they were tightening security precautions on flights in and out of Egypt.

Dutch airline KLM has said that passengers would be restricted to hand luggage while Air France said that it was reinforcing screening in Cairo.

A retired senior official in Egypt's Tourism Ministry revealed yesterday that "airport security procedures in Egypt are almost (all) bad",

Magdy Salim said he understands why people are scared - that's because security measures in Egypt are lax.

He said airport guards regularly skip security checks for friends or co-workers, and they often don't search people "if they look chic or if they come out of a fancy car".

He noted that a donkey was found wandering around Cairo airport in April, and in recent weeks, a stray dog wandered onto a runway.

He said security forces were even called in to catch a rogue cat. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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