SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP)- A Russian passenger airliner crashed Saturday in a remote mountainous part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula 23 minutes after taking off from a popular Red Sea resort, killing all 224 people on board, including 25 children.
The cause of the crash was not known, but two major European airlines announced they would stop flying over the area for safety reasons after a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group claimed it “brought down” the aircraft. Russia’s transport minister dismissed that claim as not unbelievable.
Almost everyone on board the Airbus-A321-200 operated by the Moscow-based Metrojet airline was Russian; Ukraine said four of its citizens were passengers. Russian officials did not give a specific breakdown of the 217 passengers’ ages and genders, but said 25 were children. There were seven crew members.
A civil aviation ministry statement said the plane’s wreckage was found in the Hassana area some 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of the city of el-Arish, in the general area of northern Sinai where Egyptian security forces have for years battled local Islamic militants who in recent months claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The ministry said the plane took off from the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh shortly before 6 a.m. for St. Petersburg in Russia and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes after takeoff. Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail toured the crash site and later told a Cairo news conference that 129 bodies had been recovered.
Photos from the site released by his office showed the badly damaged sky blue tail of the aircraft, with the Metrojet logo still visible. In the background, heaps of smoldering debris dotted the barren terrain.
One photo showed a member of the search team holding the flight recorder, or black box, which Ismail said would be scrutinized as investigators try to determine what caused the crash. Russian investigators were expected to arrive in Egypt on Sunday.
Natalya Trukhacheva, identified as the wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukachev, said in an interview with Russian state-controlled NTV that her husband had complained about the plane’s condition.