The Russian plane crash that killed 224 people in the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday was probably not the work of ISIS, say both Egyptian and Russian officials. The Airbus A321, operated by small Russian airline Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, was designated Flight 9268. It carried 217 passengers, mostly Russians returning from vacation, and seven crew. All are believed to have died after the plane suddenly disappeared from radar and came down near a town called Housna. Security officers on the ground have reached the site of the Russian plane crash and say they have pulled more than 100 bodies out of the wreckage. Both the “black box” flight recorders have been found.
A security officer spoke to Reuters by phone on condition of anonymity, describing what he saw at the site of the Russian plane crash.
“The plane split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rockface. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside.”
Almost immediately after the crash, various ISIS spokesmen took to social media to claim responsibility for the attack, saying that ISIS affiliates in the area had shot down the plane in retaliation for recent Russian airstrikes in support of Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria. There are serious doubts, however, as to whether this claim can be taken seriously. ISIS has a habit of opportunistically claiming responsibility for actions unrelated to their own operations, and most analysts do not believe that the Sinai insurgents possess the capability to down a plane at cruising altitude.
Investigators on the scene and the officials who command them have also played down the possibility of terrorist involvement in the Russian plane crash. There have been no reports of the kind of obvious tell-tale physical evidence that one would expect from a missile strike, and spokespeople for the Russian Foreign Ministry and Egyptian aviation authorities have been unanimous in declaring a technical fault as the most likely cause of the Russian plane crash.
According the New York Times, the wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukachev has said that her husband made complaints about the mechanical state of the plane before taking off. The woman, identified as Natalya Trukacheva, spoke to Russian television network KTV in the wake of the tragic Russian plane crash. She said that one of her daughters had spoken to Mr Trukachev before the flight, and that he had “complained before the flight that the technical condition of the aircraft left much to be desired.”
Spokespeople for Metrojet had issued statements shortly after the Russian plane crash saying that the plane’s engineering state was nominal at take off and that the pilot had thousands of hours of flying experience, a significant percentage of which was on the Airbus A321, the model of plane in question. But Russian aviation has a very poor safety record, with numerous Russian plane crashes having, in the past, been attributed at least in part to mechanical failure. This is generally agreed to be a result of crumbling infrastructure, weak safety governance, and ageing aircraft.
It is unlikely that we will have definitive answers as to the cause of the Russian plane crash any time soon. Aircraft crash investigations are painstaking and slow. Even though the Egyptian and Russian governments, who have good relations, have taken every measure to fast track the arrival of investigators and the sharing of information, plane crashes are usually caused by a cocktail of human and technical factors, and this combination typically takes months to unpick. Despite this, Lufthansa and Airfrance had, at time of writing, suspended traffic over the Sinai region in the wake of the Russian plane crash.
Viktor Sorochenko, executive director of Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee, has told Russian state media that the aircraft “broke apart in midair,” with the wreckage spread over an area 20km in size. Reports have also surfaced that the pilot, shortly before the crash, radioed an Egyptian ATC tower to request permission to land due to a technical fault. Investigators on the scene say that the number of passengers found with their seatbelts on would indicate that the pilot had asked them to buckle up in response to a problem with the plane.
So, at this stage, there is a mounting body of evidence and public declaration in support of the idea that the Russian plane crash in Sinai was caused by some kind of mechanical or other fault, whereas the case for an ISIS attack is progressively weakening.
[Photo by Getty Images/Stringer]