Russia grounds airline’s A321 fleet post-crash

Cairo/Moscow, November 1

Russia has grounded Airbus A321 jets flown by the Kogalymavia airline, Interfax news agency reported today, after one of its fleet crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

The A321, operated by the Russian airline under the brand name Metrojet, was carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg when it went down soon after daybreak yesterday.

Interfax said the Russian transport regulator Rostransnadzor had told Kogalymavia to stop flying A321 aircraft until the causes of the crash were known. However, RIA news agency cited a Kogalymavia representative as saying that the airline had not received the order from Rostransnadzor. Egyptian and Russian investigators will begin examining within hours the contents of two “black box” recorders recovered from the airliner, which crashed into a mountainous area of central Sinai shortly after losing radar contact near cruising altitude.

A militant group affiliated to Islamic State in Egypt said in a statement that it brought down the plane “in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land”, but Russia’s Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov told Interfax news agency the claim “can’t be considered accurate”.

Three carriers based in the United Arab Emirates airlines — Emirates, Air Arabia and flydubai - said today they were re-routing flights to avoid flying over Sinai.

Two of Europe’s largest carriers, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, have already said they would avoid flying over the peninsula while awaiting an explanation of the cause.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail told a news conference yesterday that there did not appear to be any unusual activity behind the crash but added that the facts would not be clear until further investigations had been carried out.

Sokolov and a team of investigators arrived at the scene today and experts would begin examining the black boxes at the civil aviation ministry in Cairo within hours, judicial and ministry sources said.

It was not clear how long the contents of the boxes, which record flight data and cockpit conversations, would take to retrieve.

Russian transport prosecutors have already examined the quality of the fuel used by the airliner and found that it met necessary requirements, Russia’s state-run RIA news agency said.

The crew had also undergone medical tests recently and no problems were detected, Interfax reported. At least 163 bodies had already been recovered and transported to various hospitals including Zeinhom morgue in Cairo, according to a cabinet statement.

Russian experts had already visited the morgue yesterday night and Russia’s emergency minister said in a televised statement that 120 bodies had been examined and were being prepared to return home.

They were expected to begin arriving in St Petersburg late today or early tomorrow.