Russians, Airbus experts join in Egypt’s plane crash investigations

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Egyptian, Russian and French investigators in the Sinai on Sunday are conducting a joint investigation into the crash of a Russian plane that killed all 224 people on board a day earlier, an Egyptian official said.

Minister of Civil Aviation Hossam Kamal said investigators are at the crash site examining the aircraft wreckage.

The Airbus A321 crashed Saturday shortly after departing from the Sinai resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh heading to the Russian city of St Petersburg.

Kamal said two French experts from the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus were joining Egyptian and Russian investigators.

Two German experts also representing Airbus were expected in Egypt later Sunday, according to the official.

Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov and Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov along with a rescue team arrived at the crash site in the remote desert interior of Sinai, local media reported.

A massive search operation for victims’ remains are underway, the government said.

Some 163 bodies have been transported so far to a major mortuary and several hospitals in Cairo, the government added in a statement.

DNA samples are being taken from the bodies as part of an identification process, a forensic medicine official said.

“Each body is given a specific number along with its DNA analysis,” Assistant Justice Minister of Forenisc Medicine Shaaban al-Shami, added, according to state-run newspaper al-Ahram.

Three Russian planes are waiting at the Cairo airport to return home bodies of the victims, sources at the airport said.

They gave no specific date for the repatriation trips.

Egyptian authorities said the tragedy was probably caused by a technical fault, ruling out the possibility that it was a result of a terrorist act in turbulent Sinai.

In recent months, the Egyptian army has stepped up a campaign against militant insurgents in the largely desert peninsula, which borders the Palestinian Gaza Strip and Israel.

A Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State extremist militia claimed to have downed the Russian plane.

But experts expressed doubts as to the claim, saying that shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile systems, which the group apparently used to shoot down an Egyptian military helicopter last year, could not have reached the Russian plane’s reported cruising height of 31,000 feet prior to its plunge.

With the exact cause of the disaster not yet known, some airlines have decided to reroute the flight course of their aircraft in the area.

The Dubai-based carrier, Emirates, said on Sunday it was suspending its flights over Sinai.

An Emirates official told dpa that the halt was temporary until the cause of the Russian plane crash is determined.

On Saturday, Lufthansa of Germany and Air France announced that they would redirect their flights to avoid the airspace over Sinai for safety reasons.

TV footage of the ill-fated Russian plane showed a badly damaged tail still carrying the logo of the Metrojet carrier, and wreckage scattered over the crash site.

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