Sun, Nov 08, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Russian plane black boxes point to ‘attack’

AFP, PARIS

A soldier walks past as passengers yesterday wait to pass through a security checkpoint in Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, Egypt.

Photo: Reuters

Black box data from the Russian plane that crashed in Egypt last week indicates it was hit by a bomb, sources said, before an Egypt-led probe into the disaster was set to release its first findings yesterday.

Both the flight data and voice recorders failed 24 minutes after the plane took off from the Sharm el-Sheikh resort en route to St Petersburg, when it plummeted from the sky into the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

Cairo and Moscow initially dismissed a claim that Islamic State (IS) militants downed the plane, but growing evidence it was attacked has prompted several countries to warn against travel to Sharm el-Sheikh. On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin also ordered flights to the Red Sea resort halted, in a fresh blow to Egypt’s already struggling tourism industry.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told news agencies the measure did not mean Russia believed the crash — the worst aviation disaster in Russia’s history — was due to an attack, and that the investigation continued.

Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations head said that Russian experts had taken samples from the crashed jet and were testing it for any traces of explosives, but a source close to the investigation said that the black box data “strongly favors” the theory a bomb on board brought down the plane.

Another person close to the case in Paris said the plane had suffered “a violent, sudden” end, saying: “Everything was normal during the flight, absolutely normal, and suddenly there was nothing.”

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s office said he called Putin and they agreed to bolster coordination to “strengthen security measures for Russian planes.”

With international concerns mounting, European airlines prepared to bring home thousands of tourists from the Red Sea resort, which has been a jewel in Egypt’s tourism crown.

Denmark on Friday became the latest European country to warn against traveling to Sharm el-Sheikh, following France, Belgium and the UK, while several airlines have banned check-in luggage as a precaution.

The US said it would also step up security screenings of US-bound flights from some Middle Eastern airports as a precaution.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a representative of national carrier Aeroflot saying a plane would be sent Friday to pick up stranded Russians.

IS said it downed the plane in retaliation for Russian airstrikes in Syria, but has provided no details as to how.

If it was behind the attack, it would be the first time the militants, who control large areas of Syria and Iraq, have hit a passenger plane.

US President Barack Obama has said that Washington was “seriously” considering the possibility of a bomb aboard the plane, while British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters it was “more likely than not that... a terrorist bomb” that caused the crash.

Egypt has beefed up security at airports to “give confidence to the British government, but that does not mean we concur with any scenario,” Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said.

The crash has the potential to deeply damage Egypt’s tourism industry, still struggling to recover from a turbulent four years following its 2011 revolution.

Once a remote beach on the edge of the Red Sea, Sharm el-Sheikh has grown into the jewel of Egypt’s tourism industry, with dozens of luxury hotels and night life attracting tourists from around the world.

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