Thursday 19 September 2019

Egypt plane crash: 'External impact' to blame for jet disaster, says airline

Egyptian soldiers collect personal belongings of plane crash victims at the crash site in the Sinai Peninsula. Photo: AP
Egyptian soldiers collect personal belongings of plane crash victims at the crash site in the Sinai Peninsula. Photo: AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with transport Minister Maxim Sokolov in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow. Photo: Reuters

Isabelle Fraser in Moscow

Only an external impact could have caused a Russian plane to dive into the Egyptian desert, killing all 224 people on board, Metrojet airline officials said.

Alexander Smirnov, deputy general director of Metrojet, told a news conference in Moscow: "We rule out a technical fault of the plane or a pilot error. The only possible explanation could be an external impact on the aeroplane."

An investigation by aviation experts using data from the aircraft's "black boxes" has yet to give its conclusions.

Mr Smirnov added that the plane was "flying out of control - that is, it wasn't flying, it was falling".

But a Kremlin spokesman has warned against speculation as to the possible causes of the crash.

"We cannot exclude any version. The investigation is only beginning," he said.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has described the crash as an "enormous tragedy".

Mr Smirnov added: "There is no such combination of failures of systems which could have led to the plane disintegrating."

However, he refused to elaborate as to whether he meant something had hit the plane, or that some external factor had caused the crash.

Moscow has batted away speculation about the cause of the air disaster.

The comments come despite growing speculation in the Russian press that flight 7K9268 may have been destroyed by an on-board explosion - possibly a bomb.

Earlier yesterday the 'Kommersant' daily, one of Russia's most respected newspapers, cited anonymous aviation experts as saying that the Airbus A321 may have been destroyed by "explosive decompression of the fuselage".

That does not necessarily mean a bomb: a similar wreckage pattern was seen following the 1997 destruction of an Antonov An-24 near Cherkessk in the Russian North Caucasus. On that occasion, experts concluded that deep corrosion of the fuselage had caused it to rupture in midair.

Kommersant's sources said that kind of disaster is unlikely in a properly maintained, modern aircraft, and said a closer parallel is the 1998 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

An alternative theory circulating is that if an engine was destroyed by malfunction, fragments could have spun off and smashed through the fuselage.

Viktor Yung, a deputy director general at Metrojet, said the crew did not send a distress call and did not contact Egyptian traffic controllers before the plane crashed into the Sinai.

"From the moment since the events took a tragic turn, the crew became incapacitated," he said, adding that there was not "a single attempt to get in touch (with air traffic control) and report the situation on board."

This contradicts reports that an Egyptian official had previously said the pilot radioed that the plane was experiencing technical problems and he intended to try to land at the nearest airport.

Meanwhile, aviation expert David Gleave said it was not "necessarily credible" for terrorist groups such as Isil, which has claimed credit for downing the aircraft in revenge for Russia's intervention in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime, to have launched a missile.

"Essentially, to get to that altitude, you'd need a very large missile on the ground and a fire control radar system . . . it's not necessarily credible that they've actually got hold of those weapons," he said.

"The wreckage trail does not look consistent at this stage with a normal plane shoot-down." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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