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AP/Press Association Images A Ukrainian woman lights a candle to pay tribute to victims of the crash,

Doomed Russian jet broke apart "in the air" before Egypt crash

A top Russian investigator says the wreckage is strewn over a large area.

Updated 4.24 pm

THE RUSSIAN AIRBUS that crashed in Egypt broke apart “in the air,” a senior official with Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee has said.

“The disintegration happened in the air and the fragments are strewn over a large area,” committee chief Viktor Sorochenko was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti news agency in Cairo, where he is part of an international panel of experts from Russia, Egypt, France and Ireland.

Sorochenko said it was “too early to draw conclusions” about what caused the crash on Saturday, which killed all 224 people travelling from Egypt’s resort Sharm el-Sheikh to Saint-Petersburg.

All of those on board were Russian except for four Ukrainians and one Belarusian.

The Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) is Russia’s top body for investigating air accidents. Sorochenko was appointed on Saturday to head a panel of crash experts to Egypt.

Investigators have recovered the plane’s “black box” flight recorder and the Egyptian government said Sunday its contents were being analysed.

Questions have also been raised about the condition of the plane but an Egyptian ground service official who carried out a pre-flight inspection said the plane appeared to be in good condition.

Reuters / YouTube

The Metrojet plane, bound for St. Petersburg in Russia, crashed 23 minutes after it took off from Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday morning.

The Egyptian official, who did not want to be named, said he was a member of a technical inspection team that included two Russians.

“We are all shocked. It was a good plane. Everything checked out in 35 minutes,” the official told The Associated Press. The closest the plane came to being in trouble, he said, was three months ago when the pilot aborted takeoff halfway through because of a system error.

“That’s almost routine though,” he said.

However, a Russian TV channel late on Saturday quoted the wife of the co-pilot as saying her husband had complained about the plane’s condition. Natalya Trukhacheva, identified as the wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukhachev, said a daughter “called him up before he flew out.

He complained before the flight that the technical condition of the aircraft left much to be desired.”

Russia Egypt Russian Plane Crash AP / Press Association Images Russian officials are closely involved in the investigation. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Another Egyptian official had previously said that before the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers the pilot had radioed and said the aircraft was experiencing technical problems and that he intended to try and land at the nearest airport.

Russia’s air safety regulator on Sunday ordered Moscow-based Metrojet to temporarily suspend flights. Rostransnadzor, Russia’s transport safety watchdog, said Metrojet needed to thoroughly analyse the situation and weigh all risks before authorities decide on Monday whether to lift the suspension.

CNN / YouTube

Despite the order, Metrojet said it will not fully suspend the flights of its six remaining A321s. It said it will check the planes one by one and continue operating them if they pass inspections. The conflicting claims couldn’t be immediately explained.

A local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group claimed it “brought down” the aircraft, but Russia’s transport minister dismissed the claim. The militants did not offer any evidence to back up their claim.

In St. Petersburg, hundreds of people were bringing flowers and pictures to the city’s airport to commemorate the 224 victims.

Elena Vikhareva, 48, went with her son to lay flowers, saying “pain is piercing her heart” even though she had no relatives on the plane. Vladimir Povarov, 19, brought flowers with a friend, saying “we couldn’t remain indifferent.”

Other people were bringing planes made of paper, stuffed toys and pictures of the victims.

Meanwhile, Dubai-based Emirates, the Middle East’s largest carrier, said Sunday it has stopped flying over Egypt’s Sinai until more is known about the crash of the Russian airliner.

Mideast Egypt Russian Plane Crash AP / Press Association Images Ambulances line up as emergency workers unload bodies of victims from the crash. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

It joins two major European airlines, Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France, that announced following the crash Saturday that they would immediately stop flying over Sinai for safety reasons until the cause of the crash was determined.

Two Russian Cabinet ministers were today inspecting the crash site in a remote mountainous part of northern Sinai with the head of Russia’s state civil aviation agency also joining.

The officials will also be shown the plane’s data and cockpit voice recorders, Terekhova said.

Also joining the effort on Sunday were officials from France’s BEA accident investigation agency, involved because the Airbus A321-200 jet was designed in France.

Russia Egypt Russian Plane Crash AP / Press Association Images Relatives and friends of those on the fligh grieve in St. Petersburg. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

More than 100 workers with Russia’s Emergencies Ministry were at the crash site helping to search for bodies and examine debris. The Russian ministry said its teams were accompanied by the Egyptian military through the restive northern Sinai, where Egypt is fighting an Islamic insurgency.

Russian officials said the rescue teams need to comb 16 sq-km to search for victims’ bodies and plane wreckage.

The Egyptian Cabinet said Sunday that 163 bodies have so far been recovered and sent to morgues in Cairo.

Read: Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for downing Russian passenger plane >

Read: Two crew members on Tom Cruise film killed in plane crash >

Associated Foreign Press
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