Official: Russian jet broke up at high altitude over Egypt
The Russian jetliner that crashed shortly after takeoff from an Egyptian resort city broke up at high altitude, scattering fragments of wreckage over a wide area in the Sinai Peninsula, Russia's top aviation official said yesterday as search teams raced to recover the bodies of the 224 people who died.
Meanwhile in Russia, an outpouring of grief gripped the historic city of St Petersburg, home of many of the victims.
President Vladimir Putin declared a nationwide day of mourning, and flags flew at half-staff.
Aviation experts joined the searchers in a remote part of the Sinai, seeking any clues to what caused the Metrojet Airbus A321-200 to plummet abruptly from 31,000 feet just 23 minutes after it departed from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for St Petersburg.
Aviation experts and the search teams were combing an area of 16 square kilometers (more than 6 square miles) to find bodies and pieces of the jet.
By midday, 163 bodies had been recovered, according to the Egyptian government.
In St Petersburg, hundreds of mourners brought flowers, pictures of the victims, stuffed animals, and paper planes to the city's airport. Others went to churches and lit candles in memory of the dead.
Elena Vikhareva had no relatives aboard the flight, but she went with her son to lay flowers, saying that pain was "piercing" her heart.
Vladimir Povarov and a friend did the same, explaining that they couldn't "remain indifferent".
The large area over which fragments were found indicates that the jet disintegrated while flying high, said Alexander Neradko, head of Russia's federal aviation agency. He would not comment on any possible reason for the crash, citing the ongoing investigation.
Neradko was in Egypt to inspect the crash site along with Russia's ministers of emergencies and transport.
Work to be done
Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov thanked Egyptian authorities for their help and said work on analysing the data and cockpit voice recorders had not yet begun.
An Egyptian ground-service official who carried out a preflight inspection of the plane said the aircraft appeared to be in good shape.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, he said he was a member of a technical inspection team that included two Russians.
"We are all shocked. It was a good plane. Everything checked out in 35 minutes," the official told The Associated Press yesterday.
The closest the plane came to being in trouble, he said, was three months ago when the pilot aborted take-off halfway through because of a system error. "That's almost routine, though," he said.