Sunday 18 August 2019

'Powerful explosion' brought down Metrojet, probe finds

A woman with her baby reacts as she stands near to floral tributes for the victims of the plane crash, at Pulkovo airport outside St Petersburg, Russia.
A woman with her baby reacts as she stands near to floral tributes for the victims of the plane crash, at Pulkovo airport outside St Petersburg, Russia.

Rachael English in Sharm el-Sheikh

A source close to the Egyptian investigation of the black boxes has said that the cause of the plane crash that killed 224 people is looking more like an explosion - but it is unclear if it was caused by fuel or a bomb.

They also said that investigators are studying sand from the plane crash site for signs of a bomb attack.

Additionally, a judiciary source in the investigation team said "the cause of the crash is an explosion at the engine. The reason of the explosion will be determined on the examination of the crash site and the test of the bodies".

Yesterday, all UK flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh were cancelled after it was disclosed that Downing Street believed the plane was downed by an explosive device.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: "While the investigation is still ongoing, we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed. But as more information has come to light we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.

"In light of this, and as a precautionary measure, we have decided that flights due to leave Sharm for the UK this evening will be delayed.

"That will allow time for a team of UK aviation experts, currently travelling to Sharm, to make an assessment of the security arrangements in place at the airport and to identify whether any further action is required. We expect this assessment to be completed tonight."

British Prime Minister David Cameron was chairing a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on the issue.

Last night, an Egyptian doctor spoke after days of dealing with the dead of the Metrojet crash.

The doctor, whom had been stationed at Cairo's main morgue, was involved in examining about half of the 224 bodies from the disaster.

Around 25 of the bodies he looked at had suffered serious burns, to the point where they were seriously charred and would require DNA samples to identify.

The doctor said most of the burns were ante-mortem, ie. had been suffered before death.

He said there was no way to know exactly what had caused

the fire but that it appeared there must have been serious flames inside the cabin as the plane broke up. Such a fire could have been caused by a bomb but equally could be the result of an engine fire or the eruption of a fuel tank, he said.

He said that the finding suggests a fire broke out in the cabin while the plane was still in the air, but the doctor was not able to firmly conclude what caused the fire.

This should be viewed alongside news that preliminary tests on bodies recovered from the crash site have not revealed any traces of explosives.

The slow process of identifying and eventually burying victims continued in St Petersburg yesterday, with relatives identifying a further 11 victims at the city's main morgue. By mid-afternoon, 44 of the 224 victims had been formally identified, St Petersburg's emergency services said.

Yesterday, in Sharm el-Sheikh, security procedures at the entrance of the airport were stepped up as police with bulletproof vests checked cars entering from outside.

Sharm El-Sheikh sees the greatest number of tourists from Russia, followed by the UK.


However, sources in Egypt were far more circumspect about the possible cause of the disaster.

Al-Masri al-Yaum, an Egyptian newspaper, cited an unnamed member of the commission investigating the crash saying that black box analysis suggested a explosion had occurred in one of the engines.

"The presence of a powerful explosion, simultaneous loss of all engine power, a fire in part of the fuselage and the destruction of part of the plane in the air," the source said, in comments picked up by Russian media.

"Samples taken from the remains of the passengers and the aircraft wreckage will determine if where there were explosives present or if the blast [in the engine] was caused by technical failure," the source added.

In St Petersburg, the impact of the Metrojet crash continues to be felt, where Georgy Poltavchenko, the governor, called off lavish celebrations planned to mark National Unity Day.

Meanwhile, the city's extreme nationalist movement cancelled a planned illegal march in the city centre, which could have provoked clashes with police, and instead called an improvised memorial service.

About 200 people gathered on the Field of Mars, St Petersburg's traditional memorial park, yesterday, where an Orthodox priest led prayers near the city's eternal flame.

November 4 marks the day in 1612 when a Polish garrison occupying the Moscow Kremlin surrendered to a Russian volunteer army. It was adopted as a national holiday to replace Soviet-era celebrations marking the October Revolution, but in recent years it has been appropriated for the Russian March, an annual show of strength by the far-right.

The event has attracted thousands of people in previous years, but numbers dwindled in 2014, and this year, as the extreme nationalist movement ruptured over the war in eastern Ukraine.

One participant in yesterday's gathering said he supports Vladimir Putin, but believes Russia is under foreign occupation because the current government is controlled by American consultants and the International Monetary Fund. "Vladimir Putin says one thing and the finance minister does the opposite, because he is controlled by the IMF," he said.

"The president is powerless. Until this fifth column is defeated in Moscow there can be no peace in Ukraine."

Irish Independent

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