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With tensions already at deeply concerning levels between Russians and their various adversaries in the Middle East region, a few hours ago this Saturday morning, around 4:20am GMT to be precise, a Russian airliner carrying 224 in crew and passengers, including 138 women, 62 men and 17 children, crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula. Egyptian officials say there are no survivors from the crash. This is the worst Russian air accident in history.
The Airbus A321 shown below, also known as Kolavia Flight 7K9268, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, was flying from the Sinai Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russia when it went down in a desolate mountainous area of central Sinai soon after daybreak.
The aircraft took off at 5:51 a.m. Cairo time (0351 GMT) and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes later, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement. It was at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 meters) when it vanished from radar screens. According to various flight tracking services the aircraft, having made an apparently smooth take off, lurched into a rapid descent shortly after approaching cruising altitude.
Airbus has confirmed the crash:
Airbus regrets to confirm that an A321-200 operated by Metrojet was involved in an accident shortly after 6:17 local time (04:17 GMT) over the Sinai Peninsula today. The aircraft was operating a scheduled service, Flight 7K-9268 from Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt) to St. Petersburg (Russia).
The concerns and sympathy of the Airbus employees go to all those affected by this tragic accident of Flight 7K-9268.
The aircraft involved in the accident, registered under EI-ETJ was MSN (Manufacturer Serial Number) 663, was produced in 1997 and since 2012 operated by Metrojet. The aircraft had accumulated some 56000 flight hours in nearly 21000 flights. It was powered by IAE-V2500 engines. At this time no further factual information is available.
In line with ICAO annex 13, an Airbus go-team of technical advisors stands-by ready to provide full technical assistance to French Investigation Agency – BEA – and to the Authorities in charge of the investigation.
The A321-200 is the largest member of the Airbus twin-engine A320 Family seating up to 240 passengers. The first A321 entered service in January 1994. By the end of September 2015, some 6500 A320 Family aircraft were in service with over 300 operators. To date, the entire fleet has accumulated some 168 million flight hours in some 92.5 million flights.
A loop of the flight's brief flight before crashing is shown below:
The aircraft was descending rapidly at about 6,000 (2,000 meters) feet per minute before the signal was lost to air traffic control.
A cabinet statement said Egyptian military planes had spotted wreckage of the plane in the Hassana area, south of Arish. The statement said: "Military planes have discovered the wreckage of the plane in a mountainous area and 45 ambulance have been directed to the site to evacuate dead and wounded."
People gather at the airline information desk at of Russian airline Kogalymaviaís desk.
The crash scene is a disaster.
"I now see a tragic scene," an Egyptian security officer at the scene told Reuters by telephone. "A lot of dead on the ground and many who died whilst strapped to their seats.
"The plane split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rock. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside," the officer, who requested anonymity, said.
Emergency services and aviation specialists quickly began an inspection of the wreckage for any patterns of damage that could point to the cause. One of two flight recorders was quickly found, but wreckage was scattered over a wide area.
The security officer said 120 intact bodies had been found. Express adds that other bodies were also found strapped in to their seats after rescue teams searched the crash site.
No photos or footage of the crash site because of media blackout by the army in Sinai since 2013. https://t.co/QS9gjtpGIl— Dalia Ezzat (@DaliaEzzat_) October 31, 2015
The full roster of passengers on the doomed flight can be found here.
Since accidents at cruising altitude are one of the rarest categories of accidents (but also among the most deadly, accounting for 13 percent of fatal incidents), the immediate question on everyone's mind - was the plane shot down from the ground? So far there are no clue as to what caused the crash. Sinai is the scene of an insurgency by militants close to Islamic State, who have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police and have also attacked Western targets in recent months.
Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State on Sept. 30.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail was heading to the crash site in the Hassana area 35 km (22 miles) south of the Sinai Mediterranean coastal city of Al Arish with several cabinet ministers on a private jet, the tourism ministry said.
Russian television showed film of anxious relatives and friends waiting for information at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo airport. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a day of national mourning for Sunday.
The Airbus A321 has a solid safety record. It is a 185-seat medium-haul jet in service since 1994, with over 1,100 in operation worldwide and a good safety record. It is a highly automated aircraft relying on computers to help pilots stay within safe flying limits.
Saturday's crash is the second fatal accident involving this variant of the A320 jetliner family, according to data from the Flight Safety Foundation. Airbus said it had no independent information on the crash and declined to comment on the aircraft involved.
If any form of terrorist activity is confirmed, this will surely escalate the war in the region which yesterday bypassed mere proxy status, and will now see both Russian and US soldiers fighting on the opposite sides of the battlefield, this will merely push the world that much closer to a unrestrained conflict.
For now the hope is that this was purely a technical issue: the Russian RIA news agency, citing sources at Sharm el-Sheikh, said: "The pilot contacted the dispatcher and reported technical problems, asking for a change of the route and a landing at Cairo airport, after which communication was broken."
According to the airline, the cause of the tragic accident was not human error.
Kogalymavia airline believes human error wasn't cause of Sinai plane crash, representative tells Russian news agency https://t.co/3d313XYHEO— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) October 31, 2015
According to RT, Metrojet had a fatal incident in 2011, when one of its planes caught fire on a runway in Surgut Airport in Russia’s Urals. Three people died and 40 were injured as the plane burned out in just 10 minutes.
The last large-scale Russian airline incident happened in November 2013, when Tatarstan Airlines Flight 363 crashed at Kazan International Airport while attempting to land. Fifty people died in the incident.
The UK's David Cameron has expressed his condolences.
My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims of the Russian plane crash in Egypt and the Bucharest nightclub fire— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) October 31, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his deepest condolences to the families of victims of the crashed airliner. Putin also ordered government ministries to offer immediate assistance to relatives of those killed and an investigation into the causes of the crash.
The president declared a national day of mourning to take place on Sunday, November 1.