Russian airline: Crash in Egypt likely caused by mid-air “impact”

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The Russian airline whose plane crashed in Egypt over the weekend, killing all 224 aboard, said Monday that the disaster was most likely caused by a mid-air “impact.”

“The only plausible reason can be a mechanical impact on the plane,” the deputy general director of Kogalymavia, a small airline that operates flights under the name Metrojet, told a press conference.

“There is no combination of system failures that could cause the plane to be destroyed in the air,” Alexander Smirnov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Another deputy general director, Viktor Yung, said the plane was in “excellent technical condition” and the pilot made no distress call before the crash.

Egyptian state media reported shortly after the crash that the pilot had told air traffic controllers about a malfunction and requested to land. But a senior Egyptian aviation official later denied that report, saying that no such alert was made.

Saturday’s crash, in Egypt’s rugged Sinai Peninsula, was the deadliest in Russian history.

The aircraft broke apart in mid-air with fragments scattered over 20 square kilometres, a senior Russian aviation official said Sunday as the country observed a national day of mourning.

The crash happened about 20 minutes after flight 9268 took off on an early morning flight from the popular resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh to Russia’s second largest city, St Petersburg.

Almost all of the victims were Russian, authorities said.

The plane was an 18-year-old, twin-engine Airbus A321-200, which seats up to 240 passengers, the French manufacturer said in a statement.

In 2011 a Kogalymavia airliner’s fuel tank blew up after an engine fire started while the plane, a Russian-made Tu-154, was at an airport in the Siberian city of Surgut.

Egyptian authorities said Saturday’s tragedy was probably caused by a technical fault, ruling out the possibility of a terrorist act.

The Egyptian military has been battling an Islamist insurgency in Sinai Peninsula, which borders the Palestinian Gaza Strip and Israel.

An affiliate of the Islamic State extremist militia claimed to have downed the plane in retaliation for Russian airstrikes against the group in Syria.

Experts expressed doubts about the claim, saying that a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile system, which the group apparently used to shoot down an Egyptian military helicopter last year, could not have reached the Russian plane’s reported cruising altitude.

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