Raf Sanchez in Cairo
Published 02/11/2015 | 02:30
Egypt and Russia last night appeared to back away from their assertions that a Russian passenger jet crashed in the Sinai desert because of a technical fault, as it was revealed that the plane broke up in the air and officials conceded the aircraft could had been brought down by a bomb on board.
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In the hours after the Airbus A321 crashed on Saturday – killing all 224 aboard and spreading debris and bodies over miles of desert – both governments were quick to say the doomed airliner appeared to be the victim of mechanical failure.
But by yesterday evening Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s president, was speaking more cautiously, saying it was too soon tell the cause and that an “extensive and complicated technical study” was needed.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) has claimed responsibility for destroying the aircraft, saying that it was revenge for Russia’s intervention in Syria on behalf the Assad regime.
A team of Irish aviation experts is to fly out to the 20sq km crash site to help establish what happened. The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) of the Department of Transport will send a team to Cairo today to assist in the investigation.
It will be made up of an operations/pilot inspector and an engineering inspector from the AAIU and a regulatory/operations adviser from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).
Read more: Egypt plane crash: Irish team will travel to Egypt to assist in air crash investigation
The team will fly out from Baldonnel using military transport provided by the Department of Defence and the Irish Air Corps.
While experts believe that the plane was flying too high to be hit by an Isil missile, an Egyptian official in the civil aviation ministry said it was possible that the plane had been brought down by an explosive planted on board.
The official said that a mechanical failure was still thought to be the most likely explanation but that it was too early to draw a firm conclusion.
He confirmed that the pilot had not issued any distress call, suggesting that the aircraft suffered a sudden calamity.
Read more: Egypt plane crash: A pink sandal with flowers serves as stark reminder to the 17 children who died
Viktor Sorochenko, a Russian aviation official who inspected the crash site, said the Kogalymavia-operated flight “broke up in the air” as he explained why the debris was spread over eight square miles (20sq km).
“Disintegration of the fuselage took place in the air and the fragments are scattered around a large area,” he said.
Investigators have reportedly begun examining both of the aircraft’s black boxes in the hope of learning precisely what happened in the aircraft’s final moments.
A grainy mobile phone video circulated online purports to shows the moment the airliner exploded before hurtling down to earth, but its origins are unclear and it could not be verified as authentic.
However, it appeared to chime with accounts from eyewitnesses who said the plane fell flaming from the sky.
Read more: Egypt plane crash: Wife of co-pilot says her husband was ‘anxious’ about condition of Metrojet plane before taking off
Yves Trotignon, a former French intelligence agent, noted that Isil’s claim of responsibility was vague in detail.
“The statement does not say that they shot it down, but that they destroyed it,” he told ‘Le Parisien’, adding: “You could imagine explosives on board, or sabotage.”
Terrorism experts said Isil has never claimed an attack it did not carry out.
Mathieu Guidere, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Toulouse, said Isil “is very well established in the Sinai, has infiltrated almost all organisations and infrastructure, so it is quite possible that a fighter sabotaged the plane at the airport before it took off or placed a device on board.”
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