A top official at Metrojet, the Russian airline company whose flight crashed Saturday in Egypt, is insisting that a technical fault could not have caused the crash. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Kremlin said there were not yet any grounds to rule out any theory for the crash. He made the comments in reply to a question about whether a terrorist attack could be to blame.
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Alexander Smirnov, the deputy general director of Metrojet, told reporters Monday in Moscow that no technical fault could have caused the Airbus A320-200 to break up in the air. He says the cause of the crash "could only have been a mechanical impact on the plane" in the air.
"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," he said.
He said there had been no emergency call from the pilots to services on the ground during the flight, which took off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for the Russian city of St Petersburg.
Several aviation experts questioned whether the airline had enough information so early in the investigation, without the benefit of a complete readout from "black box" flight recorders, to say what may or may not have caused the crash.
Under international aviation rules, airlines are not directly accredited to crash investigations and are discouraged from commenting on probes while they are still active.
"What is really disturbing is the statement by the company that this airplane couldn't possibly disintegrate: nobody is qualified to make a statement like that at this phase of investigation," said Kevin Humphreys, a former Irish regulator who founded the country's air accident investigation agency.
Russian investigators say the plane broke up at high altitude but have so far refrained from naming possible causes.
The Metrojet crashed Saturday morning 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 on board, the vast majority of them Russians.
A Russian official says forensic experts have begun identifying the bodies of the crash's 224 victims.
Yulia Shoigu, chief of the emergency situations ministry's psychological service, made the comment Monday in televised remarks. Russia has sent over 100 emergency workers and aviation experts to help Egypt examine the crash site in the Sinai Peninsula. French, German and Airbus aviation teams are also helping the investigation.
A Russian government plane on Monday brought 140 bodies of plane crash victims to St. Petersburg, where most of the passengers were from. Another plane will be taking more crash victims' bodies to St. Petersburg from Cairo late Monday night.
Kogalymavia's deputy general director for engineering, Andrei Averyanov, said damage from a 2001 incident when the plane's tail section struck the tarmac on landing had been fully repaired and could not have been a factor in the crash.
The 2001 landing at Cairo by its then operator Middle East Airlines caused "serious damage," Flight International magazine reported at the time.
Safety experts say failures from such episodes are extremely rare, but there have been two major accidents blamed on poor tail repairs carried out up to two decades earlier, including the world's deadliest single-jetliner disaster in Japan.
In 1985, a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 crashed after the rear of the fuselage ruptured following poor repairs after a tail strike seven years earlier. Only four of the 524 people on board survived.
In 2002, a China Airlines Boeing 747 crashed in the Taiwan Strait, killing all 225 passengers and crew. Investigators found cracks caused by faulty tail-strike repairs 22 years earlier.
Averyanov said the Russian aircraft's engines had undergone routine inspection in Moscow on Oct. 26 which found no problems and he said that in the five flights before the crash the crew had recorded no technical problems in the aircraft's log book.
Oksana Golovina, a representative of the holding company that controls Kogalymavia, told the news conference the airline had experienced no financial problems which could have influenced flight safety.