A Russian airliner carrying 224 passengers and crew has crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after losing radar contact and plummeting from its cruising altitude, killing all on board.
The Airbus A321, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, was flying from the Sinai Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russia when it went down in a desolate mountainous area of central Sinai soon after daybreak, the aviation ministry said.
A north Sinai security source said initial examination showed the crash was due to a technical fault, but gave no detail. The plane, he said, had landed in a “vertical fashion”, explaining the scale of devastation and burning.
The Russian Embassy in Cairo said it had been told by Egyptian officials the pilot had been trying to make an emergency landing at El-Arish.
“I now see a tragic scene,” an Egyptian security officer at the site told Reuters by telephone. “A lot of dead on the ground and many who died whilst strapped to their seats.
“The plane split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rock. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside,” the officer, who requested anonymity, said.
Sinai is the scene of an insurgency by militants close to Islamic State, who have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police and have also attacked Western targets in recent months.
Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State on September 30. Security sources said there was no indication the Airbus had been shot down or blown up.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail was heading to the crash site in the Hassana area 35 km (22 miles) south of the Sinai Mediterranean coastal city of Al Arish with several cabinet ministers on a private jet, the tourism ministry said.
Russian television showed film of anxious relatives and friends waiting for information at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport. A middle-aged woman was shown weeping and crying out.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a day of national mourning for Sunday. The passengers included 214 Russians and three Ukrainians.