Body parts from crash site suggest on-board explosion
THE state of some of the bodies retrieved from the crash site of the passenger jet that came down over Sinai in Egypt on Saturday could suggest an on-board explosion, Russia's state news agency reported, citing an anonymous Egyptian medical official.
"The large number of separate body fragments could indicate that a strong explosion occurred on board before the aircraft hit the ground," the source told RIA Novosti.
Russia's Emergency situations ministry said that the first 10 of 224 victims had been identified by relatives at St Petersburg's main morgue, and that the process was likely to take days more.
While officials have been reluctant to talk about the condition of the bodies, St Petersburg's governor has said DNA expertise may be needed to identify some remains, indicating many were badly damaged.
About 100 body fragments are believed to have been delivered to the morgue at St Petersburg's main crematorium, of which morticians have so far been able to assemble about 140 bodies, Russian media reported.
It was also revealed yesterday that the American embassy in Egypt has banned its staff from travelling to the North Sinai, where the plane crashed.
In the last two days, the Egyptian and Russian governments' narratives have diverged concerning the tragedy. In the hours after the crash, they were singing from the same hymn sheet: it looked like a mechanical issue and there was no evidence of terrorism.
However, in the days since, they've come apart: Russian investigators on the scene said it was clear that the plane had broken up in mid-air - which would be consistent with an on-board explosion.
The Egyptians, who are eager to play down any talk of Isil involvement, are saying that has not yet been proved and that everyone should wait until a final report is published.
They said that this was a precautionary measure, pending the outcome of the investigation into the disaster.
The British foreign office has said that the North Sinai area is out of bounds for all citizens - but travelling to areas in the South, for example Sharm el-Sheikh, is safe.
Ten bodies have so far been identified by their families. The Russian emergency situations ministry said that a total of 140 bodies and more than 100 body parts were delivered to St. Petersburg on two government planes yesterday and that a third plane is expected to bring more remains later today.
A US defence official said that an American satellite picked up heat flashes around the time of the plane crash. They added that there was no missile trail - this puts doubt on the theory of a surface-to-air missile being involved.
However, the heat flash could be a sign of a bomb or exploding fuel tank within the plane.
Russian news service Tass cites a source saying "elements that were not part of the plane" were found at the crash site. "They have been sent for analysis," the agency's source said.
If true, such fragments could be something from passengers' or crew's personal effects, unrelated debris already on the ground where the aircraft crashed, or - and this is the million-dollar question - fragments of a bomb or the "external impact" that owners Metrojet say brought the aircraft down.
In Cairo, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi once more dismissed theories that Isil brought down the flight as "propaganda" and insisted the security services were in "full control" of the area.
"When there is propaganda that it crashed because of Isis [Isil], this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt," Sisi said.
"Believe me, the situation in Sinai - especially in this limited area - is under our full control," he added. "All those interested in the matter are welcome to participate in the investigation."
It also emerged yesterday that cockpit recordings suggest pilots did not manage to send out a distress signal after a sudden situation developed.
Russia's Interfax news service has seen a transcript of the cockpit recordings.
The crew had a routine exchange with air traffic controllers four minutes before the aircraft vanished from radar screens, and they did not mention anything unusual or any other object near the aircraft.
"Sounds uncharacteristic of [a] routine flight were recorded preceding the moment that the aircraft disappeared from radar screens."
The crew did not send any distress signal, a source said.(© Daily Telegraph London)