Egypt, France rule out terror act on plane crash
A charter jet full of French tourists returning home from Egyptian vacations crashed into the Red Sea early Saturday, killing all 148 people aboard. Officials blamed mechanical failure.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said the crash, which came as nations heightened security at airports and canceled flights because of terror threats, was "not related to any terrorist act."
The Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry said the crash was an accident apparently caused by a mechanical problem.
French officials also said the crash appeared accidental. Deputy Transportation Minister Dominique Bussereau told reporters at Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris that the pilot detected problems on takeoff and tried vainly to turn back.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said there were 133 French tourists on the flight. One Japanese, one Moroccan, and 13 Egyptian crew members also were on the flight, Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafeeq said, according to The AP.
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin declared the nation in mourning and said investigators will go to Egypt to "shed light as quickly as possible on this catastrophe."
Most of the passengers were on a tour organized by FRAM, one of France's largest travel operators. FRAM said it had 125 people on the flight and some were children.
Speaking to reporters at the airport in Sharm el-Sheik, Shafeeq said the plane checked out fine before takeoff. "The first indications suggest a technical fault," he said, saying the last communication with the plane was at 5,300 feet.
According to the radar images, the plane turned left as normal after takeoff, then suddenly straightened out and turned right before plunging into the sea, one minute after its left turn, Shafeeq conveyed.
Earlier, he told state-run television: "There was a malfunction that made it difficult for the crew to ... save the plane."
Shafeeq said the depth of the water complicated retrieval efforts but some bodies, as well as airplane wreckage, were found. A marine official in a nearby port said at least 50 body parts were found.
Egypt's Middle East News Agency reported that blood was seen in the water because sharks ate some victims.
French President Jacques Chirac and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak expressed condolences to each other in a phone call. Egypt said it would provide a private jet to fly home the bodies of the French victims, MENA reported.
Meanwhile, a civil aviation said Sunday that the Egyptian charter company whose plane crashed into the Red Sea had been banned from flying to Switzerland for over a year because of technical problems.
"A series of safety shortcomings showed up in a plane of Flash Airlines during a routine security check at Zurich Airport in October 2002," Celestine Perissinotto, spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation told AP. Her comments confirmed Swiss and French television reports.
Perissinotto added she was unable to go into specific detail about the problems faced by the company, but said, "It concerned violations of the regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization." (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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