James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, says he cannot rule out the possibility of the Russian passenger plane, which crashed in the Sinai, being brought down by Islamic State extremists, AP reports.
Clapper told reporters in Washington that “we don’t have any direct evidence of any terrorist involvement yet” in the crash on Saturday that killed all 224 people on the Metrojet.
But he noted that the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility, has a significant presence in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Asked if Islamic State extremists had the capabilities to bring down a passenger jet, he said, “It’s unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
The United States, Germany and Britain all had overflight warnings in place for Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where a Russian passenger plane went down killing all 224 people on board.
Germany’s warning, filed with the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization on October 5 remains in place until 2016, as do the British and American warnings. In a response dated October 15, Egypt’s civil aviation authority replied that “all necessary measures for safeguarding the airspace are already taken from our side.”
The warnings advised airlines to avoid flying over the Sinai Peninsula below 26,000 feet and to avoid the Sharm el-Sheik airport due to extremist violence and, notably, the use of anti-aircraft weapons with what the US Federal Aviation Administration described as having the potential to reach high altitudes.
Robert Galan, a French aviation expert, says comments by a Metrojet executive that an “external impact” brought down its plane in the Sinai point to two possibilities: a bomb or sabotage.
Galan, who has written a history of airline disasters, says he was not familiar with security at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport where the plane took off Saturday before crashing 23 minutes later. But Galan said that any plane on a tarmac can be surrounded by more than a dozen mechanics or other technicians.
Sabotage would require familiarity with the electrical or fuel systems of the A320-200, but he said hiding a bomb would need less knowledge.
Galan said analysis of the black box will not confirm either a bomb or sabotage, as it records only the pilots’ communications and technical readings. But he said investigators could know within 48 hours whether a bomb downed the jet, because the debris would show traces of explosives.
‘External force made jet break up in mid-air’
Earlier, a top executive of Kogalymavia, which owned the Russian jet, told Russia’s RT and Sputnik that only an external or internal impact could have led to the disintegration of the plane in mid-air.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called for an end to speculations until the investigation is complete.
Russia’s aviation watchdog, Rosaviatsia, too said it was premature to come to any conclusions over the cause of the crash.
Viktor Yung, deputy director of Kolavia airline, said the disaster must have struck so fast that the crew of Flight 7K9268 could not contact air traffic and report the incident happening on board.
The jet’s captain and crew members were experienced and human error is most unlikely, he said.
“We are certain that neither technical malfunction nor pilot error” can be blamed for the disaster, said Aleksandr Smirnov who supervises the company’s fleet.
A plane cannot break up in the air due to some sort of system failure. The only possible reason would be a particular action, a mechanical or physical action on the aircraft, he said .
“I’m not authorized to make any sort of conclusions, but a plane cannot simply disintegrate, ” he said.
External force is the only possible reason for the deadly crash, said another official, who did not want to be identified.
Kogalymavia’s deputy director Andrei Averyanov said the airliner’s tail part had been damaged in 2001 although it was fully repaired later. The technical condition of the plane was normal.
He said according to Flight Radar information, the plane slowed more than 300 km an hour in less than a minute and simultaneously lost 1.5 km in altitude.
A plane cannot fly in this regime, especially a large passenger or cargo aircraft. This means that the plane was in an uncontrollable flight and was not flying, but falling, he said.
Bodies of victims arrive
The first bodies from a plane crash in Egypt in which all 224 passengers, most of them Russians, died over the weekend arrived in St Petersburg early Monday aboard a Russian government plane.
Russian news agencies reported that a first Il-76 Emergency Situations Ministry plane flew into St Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport a little before 6 am local time, carrying 144 bodies.
The ministry said the next plane carrying bodies would leave Cairo Monday evening for St Petersburg. On arrival, the first bodies were loaded onto stretchers and carried into a large white lorry waiting on the runway at Pulkovo Airport.
A Reuters photographer then saw the white lorry leaving the airport, escorted by police cars. It was heading for a St Petersburg morgue, where the bodies were to be identified.
The identification process was meant to start around 11 am local time.
At Pulkovo Airport on Sunday, grieving Russians piled flowers high in memory of their dead compatriots. Mourners in Moscow arranged candles to spell out 7K-9268, the number of the flight that crashed.
St Petersburg authorities have decided that official mourning events will last until Tuesday in Russia’s second city.