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‘Plane broke up in midair’

WADI Al-ZOLOMAT, Egypt (AFP) – A Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt broke up “in the air”, an investigator said Sunday, as the bodies of many of the 224 people killed on board were flown home.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged patience to determine the cause of Saturday’s crash, after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria jihadist group (ISIS) claimed it brought down the A-321 in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula.

“The disintegration happened in the air and the fragments are strewn over a large area,” said Viktor Sorochenko, a senior official with Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee, quoted by the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti from Cairo.

Sorochenko, who is heading an international panel of experts, said it was “too early to draw conclusions” about what caused the flight from the Red Sea holiday resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to Saint Petersburg to crash.

Late on Sunday, a Russian plane carrying 162 bodies of those killed left Cairo for Saint Petersburg, airport officials said.

Russian officials said it was expected to land at around 0200 GMT.

Investigators have recovered the “black box” flight recorders of the Airbus which crashed killing all those on board, and the Egyptian government said its contents were being analyzed.

“In such cases, leave it to specialists to determine the cause of the plane crash because it is a subject of an extensive and complicated technical study,” Sisi said.

The crash site in the Wadi al-Zolomat area of North Sinai was littered with blackened aircraft parts Sunday as the smell of burnt metal lingered, an AFP correspondent said.

There were no bodies visible, but soldiers guarded dozen of bags and suitcases belonging to passengers from flight KGL 9268.

A tiny red jacket underlined the horror of the tragedy that also killed 17 children.

Officers involved in the search efforts said rescue crews had recovered 168 bodies so far, including one of a girl found eight kilometers (five miles) from the main wreckage.

Army helicopters hovered above the site as the search for bodies continued.