A Russian airline official has said pilot error or technical problems are not to blame for the crash of a Russian jet in Egypt that killed all 224 people aboard.
As victims’ relatives prepared to receive remains of loved ones, Aleksandr Smirnov, deputy general director for the airline company Kogalymavia, which operates as Metrojet, said that the crash of the Airbus A321-200 could only have been the result of some other "technical or physical action."
"The plane was in excellent condition," Smirnov told a news conference in Moscow. "We rule out a technical fault and any mistake by the crew."
The Airbus went down over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31 about 23 minutes after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. All 224 people on board, most of them Russians, were killed in what officials said is the deadliest air disaster in Russian and Soviet aviation history.
Reuters, citing an unnamed official on a committee investigating the plane’s flight recorders, said the jet was not struck from the outside and the pilot did not make a distress call.
The Egyptian government has said the “black box” recorders are being examined by Egyptian and Russian experts along with specialists from Airbus and from Ireland, where the aircraft was registered.
An Egyptian militant group has claimed responsibility for bringing down the plane "in response to Russian air strikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land.” But Russia’s transport minister and others have dismissed that claim. Militants in the area are not believed to have antiaircraft weapons capable of hitting a plane at 9,100 meters, the altitude at which the plane was cruising.
In Washington, the director of U.S. national intelligence, James Clapper, said he has not been made aware of any direct evidence of terrorist involvement.
Аsked about the ability of Islamic State militants to shoot down an airliner, Clapper replied, "It's unlikely, but I wouldn't rule it out."
The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported that Kogalymavia has a spotty safety record and even rebranded itself three years ago in the wake of another deadly accident, getting rid of its aging Soviet aircraft and acquiring seven Airbus A321-200s and other planes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the crash as an "enormous tragedy."
Putin said "everything must be done to establish an objective picture of the situation so that we find out what has happened and are able to react adequately."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP