Russian Airline Says Sinai Plane Crash Not Due to Technical Faults or Pilot Error
Russian airliner Metrojet says Saturday’s plane crash in Egypt, which killed all 224 people on board, was not caused by technical problems or pilot error.
The flight from the Egyptian beach resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg broke up over the Sinai peninsula.
“We rule out a technical fault of the plane or a pilot error,” said Alexander Smirnov, deputy general director of Metrojet. “The only explainable cause is physical impact on the aircraft.” Pressed for an explanation about what could have caused this impact, Smirnov said he was not at liberty to discuss details because the investigation was ongoing.
The head of the Russian aviation agency said it was premature of Metrojet to comment on the possible cause since investigators do not have enough data to reach any conclusions. Alexander Neradko, who has arrived in Cairo, said fragments and the contents of the black boxes would need to be studied first.
According to Smirnov, the plane dropped 186mph in speed and about 5,000ft in altitude one minute before it crashed. “This isn’t flying, it’s falling. Apparently, the plane sustained damage before this [and] that became the reason for the fall,” Smirnov said.
The fact that the crew did not attempt to contact ground services meant the plane had “completely lost operational capabilities when the catastrophic situation began to develop” and was not able to put out a distress signal, Smirnov said. Passengers most likely died from stresses experienced after the plane broke up, he added.
A source in the Egyptian committee analysing the plane’s black box recorders told Reuters the plane had not been struck from the outside. The source declined to give more details but based his comments on the preliminary examination of the boxes.
Aviation experts have speculated that a sudden mechanical failure or an explosion could have been to blame.
On Saturday, a militant group affiliated to Islamic State in Egypt claimed responsibility for bringing down the jet, but Egypt and Russia disputed the claim, suggesting militants in northern Sinai, where Egypt has been fighting an Islamic insurgency, did not have the weaponry to hit a flight at 9,000 metres (31,000ft).
However, Zack Gold, a regional expert on Sinai security, pointed out on Sunday that the militant’s group’s statement “said they were responsible for downing the plane, not shooting it down”.
Gold said: “A legitimate Isis-supporting account in Sinai said: ‘Why is everyone talking about shooting it down, why is no one talking about a bomb or suicide bomber on board’.”
If a bomb had been planted on the plane, it would suggest security systems at Sharm el-Sheikh airport had been infiltrated or compromised, which would raise a whole range of other questions, he said. Gold added that there had been nothing to support the claim so far, such as a pre-mission video of a suicide attacker.
“The group does not have a history of major fabrications, but at the same time it’s curious that they would make this claim without providing any kind of evidence. They have military capabilities, but to carry out this kind of terrorism [on a plane] they would have to display organisation they haven’t shown [before].”
A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Monday no causes could be ruled out. When asked about a possible terrorist attack, he asked journalists to wait for investigators’ results.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who has not appeared in public since the plane went down, adopted a more active role in the crash’s aftermath on Monday. The Kremlin website published a photograph of him meeting his transport minister, Maksim Sokolov, who is leading the commission investigating the disaster.
Putin called for “maximum attention” to be given to the families of the victims, declaring: “We are with you in heart and spirit,” news agency Interfax reported. He also called for an “objective picture” of the incident to be determined so that “we know what happened and can react accordingly”.
The aircraft, built in 1997, suffered a tail strike in 2001, where the rear end of the plane touches the runway on takeoff. It underwent extensive repairs. On Monday, Oksana Golovina, a spokeswoman for the company that owns Metrojet, said the repaired area had been inspected in 2014. “The airplane was 100% ready to fly, in working order, otherwise it wouldn’t have taken off,” she said.
Despite additional checks imposed by the state transport regulator, Golovina said Metrojet would continue its flights to Egypt. Two of its remaining planes have undergone safety checks and two are in the process of being checked, she said.
“If we for a second doubted the flight readiness of our planes or our personnel, we would stop flights,” Golovina said. “We are confident our flights are in working order, we are confident our personnel’s capabilities meet or even exceed international standards.”
The dead, including more than 20 children, were all Russian apart from four Ukrainians and one person from Belarus. Early on Monday, the bodies of 140 victims of the crash arrived back in St Petersburg. Their remains were to be taken in a motorcade to a crematorium for identification, which will begin later in the day, according to Russia’s emergency ministry.