Just when it seemed as though the conflict in Syria and the attendant ISIS saga couldn’t possibly get any more surreal, on Saturday a Russian passenger jet fell out of the sky over the Sinai Peninsula. Subsequently, ISIS claimed responsibility and released a video clip that purportedly depicts the mid-air explosion that brought the plane down.
All 224 people on board were killed including 17 children. It was the worst “accident” in the history of Russian aviation. Bodies are reportedly scattered as far as 8 kilometers from the crash site. "We found a three-year-old girl eight kilometres from the scene" of the main wreckage, one official told AFP. The picture shown below, which depicts Darina, a 10-month old girl killed in the crash staring at planes before flying to Egypt, has gone viral.
Now, as Russia mourns, authorities are scrambling to determine exactly what happened and more than a few observers contend that ISIS couldn’t possibly have shot the plane down given the altitude. Nevertheless, some international airlines have diverted traffic over the region which has been the site of clashes between the Egyptian government and militants.
Adding to the mystery, the plane’s co-pilot allegedly voiced concerns about the condition of the aircraft prior to the flight and while officials insist that it would be extraordinarily difficult for a terrorist group to hit a plane flying at 31,000 feet, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail says there’s “no evidence that anything unusual was happening on the plane before it crashed.”
Here’s more from Bloomberg:
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said in a televised news conference on Saturday that it would be premature to speculate on the cause of the crash before the data on recorders were analyzed.
Conflicting reports have emerged about whether the pilot, who was flying at an altitude of 31,000 feet, indicated a technical problem. While Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal said the pilot hadn’t radioed an SOS call, the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel reported he had sought permission to land at a nearby airport.
“It is technically difficult to target a plane at that level,” Ismail said. “We have no evidence that anything unusual was happening on the plane before it crashed.”
Islamic State’s statement doesn’t specify how the plane was downed and the local affiliate may have jumped the gun to take credit, Mokhtar Awad, an analyst at the Center for American Progress, a research institute in Washington, said by e-mail. Russian Transportation Minister Maxim Sokolov said on state television that reports of a terrorist missile aren’t credible.
Former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, an army reserves general, concurred that it was unlikely an Islamist group shot down the aircraft. But “other scenarios also have to be considered, especially the possibility that the plane was sabotaged at the airport before taking off,” Amidror said.
Preliminary investigations indicate the plane went down due to a technical problem, the state-run Ahram Gate website said, citing Egyptian security officials. The plane had reached cruising altitude before crashing in the remote
Al Hassana area of central Sinai, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Al-Arish. Egyptian security forces have been waging a fierce campaign in the area against militants who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
Other experts claim that the plane's movements just prior to the crash seem to rule out a terrorist attack.
In its final seconds Saturday, the Metrojet plane was bucking wildly, abruptly climbing and descending before communication was lost, according to FlightRadar24.com, which tracks flight routes. At times it dropped as fast as 6,000 feet per minute, only to reverse and climb even faster, repeating that pattern several times. At other times, it slowed dangerously. About 24 seconds before losing contact, it dropped to 71 miles per hour from 470 miles, according to the data. Jetliners such as the Airbus 321 can’t stay aloft at such a speed.
If the FlightRadar24 data are correct, “it probably rules out sabotage,” said Paul Hayes, director of air safety and insurance at Ascend Worldwide. “It’s probably some sort of control problem.”
As a refresher, here's a look at the flight path and data:
— Eric Lewis (@SubEWL) October 31, 2015
The aircraft was descending rapidly at about 6,000 (2,000 meters) feet per minute before the signal was lost to air traffic control.
— Plane Finder (@planefinder) October 31, 2015
— Plane Finder (@planefinder) October 31, 2015
And here's a bit more color from Sputnik:
Experts from Egypt, Russia, and France have started analyzing the flight data recorders of the Russian airliner which crashed Saturday in Egypt killing 224, Egyptian media report.
The airliner's flight recorders were discovered on Saturday night. The Russian transportation minister said they had no significant damages.
"There is minor technical damage. But there was no thermal impact as the Egyptian representatives say," Maksim Sokolov said.
A Kogalymavia/Metrojet Airbus A321 en route to St. Petersburg from the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh with 217 passengers and seven crew on board, crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, leaving no survivors. The Sinai air crash became the deadliest air accident in the history of Russian aviation, surpassing the 1985 disaster in Uzbekistan, where 200 people died.
And so, even as the "experts" claim that i) ISIS couldn't have shot the plane down, and ii) that the data seem to "rule out" sabotage, one can't help but note that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was brought down by a missile over Ukraine and furthermore, it's not clear why "some sort of control problem" isn't compatible with someone either hitting the aircraft with a projectile or else detonating an explosive on board. That is, when planes explode in mid-flight, it tends to lead to "control problems." Indeed, Russian officials have confirmed that the plane "broke apart in the air":
#BREAKING Russian plane 'broke apart in the air': Russian aviation official
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) November 1, 2015
"It is too early to draw conclusions," MAK executive director Viktor Sorochenko says. "Disintegration of the fuselage took place in the air, and the fragments are scattered around a large area [about 20 square kilometers]", the official added.
Yes, it "broke apart", which would appear to suggest that it in fact exploded. And so even as it will probably never be possible to definitively say whether or not the video released on Saturday is real or fake, we would note once again that if the footage is authentic, someone on the ground knew exactly when to start filming.
— ???? (@iq2015_bgd) October 31, 2015
In any event, we'll await the "official" word, although reports indicate that it could take weeks, or even months to determine exactly what happened here. That said, if there's even a shred of credible evidence to corroborate the video shown above, don't expect The Kremlin to wait around on the full report as IS in Sinai may soon find themselves shooting at other Russian jets in the skies above Egypt - only these jets will be shooting back.