Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt on Friday after a recommendation by his chief of intelligence for a halt until the cause of last week’s crash of a passenger jet in the Sinai Peninsula is determined, as an official said pieces of wreckage from the plane had been brought to Moscow to test for possible traces of explosives.
The suspension came after several days of statements by British and American officials that it was possible a bomb on board had brought down the Russia carrier Metrojet’s Airbus A321-200, which crashed 23 minutes after takeoff from the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board. Russian and Egyptian officials had bristled at the statements, saying it was too soon to tell the cause.
The suspension, covering all of Egypt, is even more sweeping than that imposed by Britain, which had halted flights to Sharm el-Sheikh only.
“I think it will be reasonable to suspend all Russian flights to Egypt until we determine the real reasons of what happened,” intelligence chief Alexander Bortnikov Bortnikov said in televised comments. “It concerns tourist flights most of all.”
Russia’s emergency situations minister, Vladimir Puchkov, said wreckage from the plane have been brought to Moscow for tests. “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,” Puchkov said.
Baggage ban complicates repatriation
Britain’s efforts, meanwhile, to bring home hundreds of British tourists stranded at Sharm el-Sheikh airport by its suspension of flights were snarled by new security measures put in place for its planes, including a ban of checking in luggage.
Tempers ran high among the crowds of tourists in the airport departure lounge. When U.K. Ambassador John Casson appeared to reassure them, one irate British tourist who had waited at the airport since early morning hours, harangued him with angry shouts of: “When are we going home?”
Britain had grounded all flights to and from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, saying there was a “significant possibility” the Russian airliner that crashed last Saturday, killing 224 people, was downed by a bomb. But London approved the resumption of flights starting Friday, though passengers were only allowed to take carry-on bags with them.
But Egypt prevented some flights from coming to pick up the tourists because of the pile-up of baggage. Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Hossam Kamal, said there would be eight flights in all to the U.K. on Friday, instead of the 29 planned earlier. He said the British airlines are flying without passengers’ luggage, while Sharm el-Sheikh airport’s storage can hold no more than 120 tons of luggage left behind.
“This big volume will affect the smooth operation of the rest of the domestic and international flights,” said Kamal, adding that a cargo plane would carry bags separately for each flight.
British carrier EasyJet had been due to operate 10 flights from the Red Sea resort but said eight would not be able to fly because Egypt had suspended them. “We are working with the U.K. government at the highest level on a solution,” it said in a statement.
Two other carriers, Monarch and British Airways, said they still planned to operate flights back from Sinai on Friday.
The development is likely to hinder Britain’s attempts to smoothly bring back the estimated 20,000 U.K. nationals in Sharm el-Sheikh. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said earlier Friday that “most of the people who were expecting to be home by tonight will be home by tonight.”
On the ground in Sharm el-Sheikh, employee Mohammed Abdel Fattah who works as a handling agent for EasyJet, said two of the budget airline’s flights to the U.K. have been checked in. He told the rest of EasyJet passengers to return to their hotels, “until there are new updates.”
“Why all of a sudden is everything on hold,” asked one of the stranded British tourists, Carla Dublin. “We don’t know what’s going on.”
Casson, the ambassador, tried to reassure the tourists, saying that British authorities will “continue to work until we have everybody home.”
“There are challenging, difficult issues to work through, this is a busy airport and we need to make sure people leave in a way that is safe,” he said.
Early in the morning, the Egyptians carried out expanded security checks as dozens of busses, ferrying British and Russian tourists, waited outside the airport, the line stretching up to a kilometer (half mile) as police inspected each vehicle.
Russia and Egypt have dismissed Western suggestions that a bomb may have caused the crash last Saturday, saying the speculation was a rush to judgment and insisting the investigation must run its course. The United States and British leaders have stopped short of a categorical assignment of blame in the crash, but Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday it was “more likely than not” that the cause was a bomb.
The crash prompted companies to ground flights from and to the Red Sea resort, stranding thousands of tourists this week. Britain later said additional security measures would be in place, including only allowing passengers to carry hand baggage, while checked luggage will be transported separately. The carry-on measure applies only to those departing from Sharm el-Sheikh, British officials said.
MOSCOW, November 5. /TASS/. The Interstate Aviation Committee suspends the certificate for all Boeing-737 aircraft in Russia until receiving a joint notice of the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency and the US Federal Aviation Administration on the aircraft airworthiness. Such a statement is contained in IAC letter to heads of Russian and US authorities posted on the IAC website.
IAC founded in 1991 is the collective authority of eleven Former Soviet Union republics with authority to regulate the air space use. The committee deals with certification of aircraft and investigation of air accidents.
“IAC Air Register as the authorized agency in airworthiness standardization and type certification has to suspend all type certificates for Boeing-737 family aircraft issued by it in the course of validation until receipt of a joint notice of the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency and the US Federal Aviation Administration that Boeing-737 type aircraft operating in Russia are in condition supporting their safe operation,” IAC said in the letter.
IAC letter signed by the Air Register Chairman Vladimir Bespalov says Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency was in correspondence with the relevant US authority concerning urgent improvements of Boeing-737 aircraft rudder control system.
Operations of Boeing-737 to continue until receiving formal instruction
A source in a Russian air carrier told TASS that operations of Boeing-737 aircraft will continue until receiving a formal instruction.
“Boeing-737 aircraft will be operated as usual until receipt of an official instruction,” the source said.
This aircraft type is at the same time one of the most frequently used by Russian air carriers. According to public sources nearly 190 Boeing-737 aircraft of different modifications are currently in service in Russia.
Russian News Agency
Russian civil aviation authorities have issued a letter suspending the airworthiness certificate for all Boeing-737 aircraft in Russia, according to government-owned Russian news agency TASS.
However, according to TASS, Russian airlines are allowing 737s to continue to fly “until receipt of an official instruction.”
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said Thursday that the company is aware of what’s happening but doesn’t know the reason for the suspension.
“We’re looking into it,” said Alder.
The report in TASS said Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency is “in correspondence with the relevant U.S. authority concerning urgent improvements of Boeing-737 aircraft rudder control system.”
TASS cited the letter saying the suspension will stay in effect until “receipt of a joint notice of the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that Boeing-737 type aircraft operating in Russia are in condition supporting their safe operation.”
Nearly 190 Boeing 737s are currently in service in Russia, TASS said.
The Seattle Times
The nature of passengers’ injuries from the Russian jet that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai on Saturday may indicate that an explosion took place aboard before the plane hit the ground, an Egyptian doctor who examined the bodies said, Sputnik news agency reported.
“A large number of body parts may indicate that a powerful explosion took place aboard the plane before it hit the ground,” an Egyptian forensic expert told the agency.
A DNA analysis would be required to identify the victims of the Russian A321 airliner crash in Egypt, the expert added.
Earlier, Russian tabloid LifeNews claimed to have obtained the results of a forensic medical examination that allegedly stated that the passengers “in the tail section of the liner died because of so-called blast injuries.”
According to the broadcaster, they were diagnosed with burns of over 90 percent, with experts noting particles of metal and aircraft covering piercing the bodies of the deceased.
The people in the front part of the plane died from different causes, including blood loss, shock, open head injuries and multiple fractures, it added.
There have been no official announcements made so far on the results of forensic medical examination of the crash victims.
The Russian airline Kogalymavia’s jet crashed in Sinai Peninsula en route to St. Petersburg from the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh on Saturday.
All 224 people aboard were killed, making it the deadliest civilian aircraft disaster in Russian and Soviet history.