ISIS claimed responsibility for downing a Russian airliner carrying 224 passengers which crashed in the Sinai on Saturday with no survivors reported. The plane, an Airbus A-321, took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, bound for the Russian city of St Petersburg, and 23 minutes after takeoff lost contact with the air-traffic controller. According to reports, the plane fell vertically, catching fire on impact.
Initial investigations blame a technical fault. However, the Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed credit for the crash, saying it was revenge for Russian military efforts targeting ISIS in Syria. The crash was in the Hassana area, 100 kilometers south of el-Arish, where the Egyptian military has been fighting ISIS affiliated rebels.
Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov told Interfax news agency that “such reports cannot be considered true”. He said there was no evidence the plane had been targeted by an attack.
Egypt’s civilian aviation ministry reported the plane had been at an altitude of 9,450 meters when it disappeared. The shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), used by Sinai rebels, have an effective range of 6,100 meters and are not considered a threat to commercial airliners flying at higher altitudes. Nonetheless, there have been no less than eight instances where civilian airliners have been targeted by these small missiles, usually while taking off. The possibility of a bomb on board the plane has not been ruled out.
An Egyptian aviation official said the pilot had reported technical difficulties, including radio problems, before losing contact with air traffic controllers. Ayman al-Muqadem of the Aviation Incidents Committee said the pilot had requested to land at the nearest airport.
German airline Lufthansa and Air France-KLM have announced they will avoid the area for safety reasons.
“We took the decision to avoid the area because the situation and the reasons for the crash were not clear,” a Lufthansa spokeswoman said. “We will continue to avoid the area until it is clear what caused the crash.”
Russian President Vladmir Putin has declared that Sunday will be an official day of mourning.