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A 'heat flash' was detected by US satellites around the Russian jet before it crashed

“A whole raft of things that could have happened,” said a US official.

Egyptian Army soldiers stand near luggage and personal effects at the crash site.
Egyptian Army soldiers stand near luggage and personal effects at the crash site.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

US SATELLITE IMAGERY detected heat around a Russian passenger jet just before it went down in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, two US officials have confirmed. But the discovery doesn’t resolve the mystery of why the plane crashed, killing all 224 aboard.

A missile striking the Metrojet Airbus A321-200 was ruled out because neither a launch nor an engine burn had been detected, one of the officials said.

The infrared activity that was detected could mean many things, including a bomb blast or that an engine on the plane exploded due to a malfunction.

Aviation analyst Paul Beaver said the heat picked up by the satellite “indicates that there was a catastrophic explosion or disintegration of the airplane,” but doesn’t reveal the cause.

“It doesn’t tell us if it was a bomb … or if somebody had a fight in the airplane with a gun — there is a whole raft of things that could happen in this regard,” he said.

It also could indicate a fuel tank or engine exploding, although “engines are designed so that if something malfunctions or breaks off, it is contained within the engine,” Beaver added.

Some aviation experts had earlier suggested a bomb was the most likely cause of Saturday’s crash, while some others pointed at a 2001 incident in which the jet damaged its tail during landing.

The Metrojet was flying from Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg when it crashed in the Sinai Peninsula after breaking up at high altitude, Russian aviation officials said.

Lithuania Egypt Russian Plane Crash People light candles at Russia's Embassy in Vilnius, Lithunia Source: AP/Press Association Images

Islamic State militants said they had “brought down” the Russian plane because of Moscow’s recent military intervention in Syria against the extremist group. But the group did not provide any evidence to support its claim, and militants in northern Sinai have not shot down any commercial airliners or fighter jets.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called that claim “propaganda” aimed at damaging the country’s image, and he insisted the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula is under “full control.”

In an interview with the BBC, el-Sissi also reiterated that the cause of the crash may not be known for months and said there should be no speculation about it.

President Vladimir Putin said Russia will keep fighting terrorism in Syria and elsewhere, adding that no one will succeed in scaring it.

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, rejected any connection between the crash and the Russian military action in Syria, saying there is no reason to link them.

An international team of experts prepared to analyse the plane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders, the so-called “black boxes.”

Read: Reports: Sinai plane black box shows emergency ‘took crew by surprise’ >

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Associated Press

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