Air France, the French unit of Air France- KLM Group, and Deutsche Lufthansa AG said they’ll avoid flying over the area in Egypt where a Russian-operated aircraft went down earlier on Saturday, diverting planes as a precaution until more information becomes available on the cause of the crash that killed all 224 passengers and crew on board.
The two airlines reacted as Egyptian authorities began probing the cause of the crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Preliminary investigations indicate the plane, an Airbus 321 operated by Russia’s Metrojet, may have come down because of a technical issue, the state-run Ahram Gate website said, citing Egyptian security officials.
The choice of flight paths has become an issue of public debate in the wake of downing of a Boeing Co. 777 wide-body jet last year over eastern Ukraine, an area that some airlines had already avoided amid fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro- Russian separatists on the ground below. The July 17, 2014, crash of Flight MH17 that killed 298 people was later described as having been caused by a missile launched from rebel-held territory. While Ukraine had blocked air traffic below a certain threshold, it had allowed airlines to fly at cruising altitude above zones where military conflicts had occurred.
“In light of appropriate precautions displayed in the MH17 incident it makes sense now for airlines to display an abundance of caution,” said Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, New York. “But I’m not aware of anything suggesting a ground-to-air missile.”
The Russian plane crashed 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh, a popular Red Sea resort. The airliner, which took off at 5:51 a.m. Cairo time heading for St. Petersburg, had reached a cruising altitude of 31,000 feet, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said.
Airlines themselves set their flight plans. Airline dispatchers file flight plans to determine the ideal path, which has to be accepted by air-traffic control authorities or air-navigation services providers.
At KLM, a spokeswoman said the airline had no flights scheduled in that area today so there was no need to review flight paths. She said the airline would exercise caution in the event it has flights set to fly in the area.
At British Airways, a spokeswoman said the airline “would never operate a flight until it was safe to do so,” declining to discuss specific routes, citing company practice.
A 10-month-old girl gazing at the planes in St. Petersburg airport before departing to Egypt – this picture of Darina has become the symbol of the plane crash in Sinai on social media. People continue to bring flowers to mourn the tragedy.
Darina Gromova was among the 224 people who died on Kolavia flight 7K9268. It was returning from Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh resort to Russia’s St. Petersburg on Saturday morning when it suddenly vanished from radar over the Sinai Peninsula.
Her parents – mother Tatiana and father Aleksey – were also among those killed in the crash.
“Main passenger. #family. #darinagromova. Pulkovo International Airport Saint-Petersburg New Terminal 1,” wrote Tatiana hours before their plane took off from St. Petersburg to Sinai. Little did she know that this photo would become the grieving symbol of the tragic flight.
People across Russia took to social media to say how touched they were by the story of little Darina. The hashtag #mainpassenger has taken to Twitter.
“RIP, Little angel,” “I feel pity for these people, especially for this little miracle who was only 10 months old,” “I am sobbing all day,” wrote users on Twitter.
Twenty-five children are believed to have been on board, along with 192 adults – nearly 140 of whom were women.
The flight disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes after taking off. Those on the crashed Airbus A321 were mostly holidaymakers. The Egyptian Red Sea destination is popular among Russian tourists all year round.
An overwhelming majority of people on board were Russian nationals. Three Ukrainians and one Belarus citizen are also reportedly among the crash victims. The catastrophe is the deadliest in Russian aviation history.
‘We just can’t be indifferent’: Tribute to plane crash victims
On Sunday, Russia is mourning the victims of the Sinai plane crash.
Dozens of people have gathered in St. Petersburg to pay tribute to the victims. People laid flowers and candles at the place where the plane was supposed to land in Pulkovo Airport. The governor of Russia’s northern capital has extended the mourning period until Tuesday.
“I don’t know any of the victims, but I am from St. Petersburg myself and my family is. I have two small children and I just can’t be indifferent when things like that happen,” one woman told RT.
“Things like this can happen to anyone, they happen all the time, no one is safe… And it is very sad,” a man holding a small child added.