A Russian charter plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula Saturday, killing all on board.
The plane with 214 Russian and three Ukranian passengers, and seven crew, had taken off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in the south Sinai bound for Saint Petersburg. It lost contact with air traffic control 23 minutes later.
Egyptian security and medical officials said there were no survivors, and that the bodies of the passengers and debris were spread out over an area of five square kilometres (two square miles).
The Russian embassy in Cairo said: “Unfortunately, all passengers of Kogalymavia flight 9268 Sharm el-Sheikh-Saint Petersburg have died. We issue condolences to family and friends.”
The wreckage was found roughly 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the North Sinai town of El-Arish, Egyptian officials said.
The Islamic State (IS) group affiliate in Egypt claimed that it downed the plane, without saying how, but there has been no official word on the cause of the crash.
The IS affiliate, which is waging a deadly insurgency in the Sinai, claimed that “the soldiers of the caliphate succeeded in bringing down a Russian plane” there.
It said this was in revenge for Russian air strikes against militants in Syria, where IS controls territories that straddle Iraq.
Three military experts said IS in Sinai does not have surface-to-air missiles capable of hitting a plane at high altitude.
But they could not exclude the possibility of a bomb on board or a surface-to-air missile strike if the plane had descended for an emergency landing.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Moscow’s emergency ministry to dispatch rescue teams to Egypt.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his French counterpart Francois Hollande said they had sent their condolences to Moscow.
The Russian emergency ministry published a list of names of the passengers, ranging in age from a 10-month-old girl to a 77-year-old woman.
A senior Egyptian aviation official said the plane was a charter flight operated by a Russian firm, and was flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet when communication was lost.
At Saint Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport, anxious family members awaited news of their loved ones.
“I am meeting my parents,” said 25-year-old woman, Ella Smirnova, seemingly in shock. “I spoke to them last on the phone when they were already on the plane, and then I heard the news.”
“I will keep hoping until the end that they are alive, but perhaps I will never see them again.”
A senior Egyptian air traffic control official said the pilot told him in their last communication that he was having trouble with the radio system.
Russian aviation official Sergei Izvolsky told Interfax news agency that the Airbus 321 operated by Russian carrier Kogalymavia had departed Sharm el-Sheikh at 5:51 am (0351 GMT).
He said the plane did not make contact as expected with air traffic controllers in Cyprus.
- With agency reports