Associated Press Service
While Russian authorities say it’s premature to make any conclusions about the cause of Saturday’s deadly Airbus passenger plane crash in Egypt, Metrojet airline officials on Monday blamed “external” reasons for the disaster that killed all 224 people aboard.
Senior officials at the Russian charter airline company said Monday they’d ruled out technical failure and human error in the crash of Metrojet Flight 7K9268.
But Russian officials and airline representatives refused to speculate on what caused the crash, the worst in Russian aviation.
There are no technical failures that could lead to the plane breaking up in the air,” as it did, Aleksander Smirnov, the airline’s deputy director for aviation, said at a packed news conference in Moscow.
According to a VOA report that Metrojet’s deputy director of technical operations, Andrei Averyanov, rejected suggestions that a 2001 repair to the plane’s tail could have caused the disaster, despite similar disasters caused by faulty repairs to older planes.
“The plane wasn’t flying, it was falling,” Smirnov said. “The crew totally lost control and for that reason there was not one attempt to get in contact and report on the accident situation onboard.”
Smirnov said the Metrojet charter flight “received significant damage to its construction that did not allow it to continue the flight.”
He said the only way to explain the crash is “some kind of external action . . . We rule out technical faultiness of the plane, we exclude a mistake by the pilot or the crew, the so-called human factor.”
When asked if terrorism was possible, Smirnov did not dismiss the possibility, but called for everyone to wait for investigators’ findings.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, when asked earlier about the possibility of it being a terrorist attack, said no theory could yet be ruled out.
Meanwhile, the head of Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, Alexander Neradko, told Rossiya 24 state television it was premature for the company to say technical or human error was not to blame.
Neradko agreed with the airline’s assessment that the plane broke up about 23 minutes after takeoff and plunged out of the sky at high speed.
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States has made “an open offer” to support the investigation, but he acknowledged he didn’t know of any dedicated resources.
And, though no Americans are believed to have been killed in the crash, Earnest said, “We obviously have an interest in helping Egyptian and Russian authorities get to the bottom of what exactly happened.”
No evidence of terrorism
Cairo and Moscow have played down the claim from Egypt’s Islamic State branch that it shot down the plane, traveling Saturday from the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city.
James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, said Monday that “we don’t have any direct evidence of any terrorist involvement yet” in the crash. But he noted that the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility, has a significant presence in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Asked if Islamic State extremists had the capabilities to bring down a passenger jet, Clapper said, “It’s unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Earlier Monday, the first bodies of victims of the Russian airplane crash arrived at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport aboard a Russian government plane.
St. Petersburg authorities have decided mourning activities there for those killed in the crash will last until Tuesday. Putin had declared Sunday a national day of mourning.
After visiting the crash site, Viktor Sorochenko, a Russian member of the investigation team, said fragments of the Airbus A321 “are strewn over a large area,” according to RIA-Novosti news agency in Cairo.
Several airlines, including Air France, Lufthansa, Dubai-based Emirates and Qatar Airways, have said they will stop flying over the Sinai peninsula for safety reasons.
Militants claiming affiliation to the Islamic State said they downed the jet. But aviation and military experts believe the group does not have missiles that could have reached the plane’s altitude of 9,100 meters.