CAIRO/MOSCOW Nov 2 (Reuters) A Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula broke up in mid-air, an official of a Moscow-based aviation agency said on Sunday after visiting the disaster site, but stressed it was too early to draw conclusions from this.
Russian authorities also ordered Kogalymavia airline, operator of the Airbus A321 which came down on Saturday killing all 224 people on board, not to fly its jets of the same model until the causes of the crash are known.
The jet, which Kogalymavia flew under the brand name Metrojet, was carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg when it crashed into a mountainous area of central Sinai shortly after losing radar contact near cruising altitude.
“The destruction happened in the air, and fragments were scattered over a large area of around 20 square kilometers,” said Viktor Sorochenko, director of the Intergovernmental Aviation Committee. However, he warned against reading anything into this information. “It’s too early to talk about conclusions,” he said on Russian television from Cairo.
Mourning in Moscow
At St Petersburg’s 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.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi said it could take months to establish the truth behind the crash though his country was cooperating with Russia to aid investigations.
“This is a complicated matter and requires advanced technologies and broad investigations that could take months,” Sisi said in a televised speech on Sunday.
The wreckage was found in a desolate area of stony ground.
At least 163 bodies had already been recovered and transported to various hospitals including Zeinhom morgue in Cairo, according to a cabinet statement.
Those on board the doomed flight included 214 Russians, at least three Ukrainians and one Belarusian, most returning from the Red Sea, popular with Russians seeking winter sun.
Carriers from United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait said they would re-route flights over Sinai as a security precaution until there was more clarity. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways said it would continue to overfly the peninsula but avoid airspace over certain areas on the advice of Egyptian authorities.
Three carriers based in the United Arab Emirates airlines – Emirates, Air Arabia and flydubai – said on Sunday they were re-routing flights to avoid flying over Sinai. Two of Europe’s largest carriers, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, have already said they would avoid flying over peninsula while awaiting an explanation of the cause.
Sherif Fathy, Chairman of EgyptAir, said the national carrier had taken no such action. “I heard some other companies may be doing this, but I don’t think it’s justified,” he said.