Sinai crash: Russia extends search area and uses drones

Debris of the A321 Russian airliner in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula Image copyright AFP
Image caption Russian rescue teams have already examined the area of 30sq km around the crash site by Wednesday

Russian rescue teams have extended the search for bodies and wreckage from a Russian plane that crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula to a 40 sq-km (15 sq-mile) area.

Drones are being used to scan the sandy and hilly terrain, officials say.

Kogalymavia flight 9268 from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg went down on Saturday. All 224 people on board - most of them Russian nationals - died.

The Airbus 321 is thought to have broken up in mid-air.

In a BBC interview on Tuesday, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi dismissed as "propaganda" claims that militants linked to Islamic State (IS) brought down the aircraft.

The militants have carried out a series of deadly attacks against Egyptian security forces in recent years.

On Wednesday, at least three people were killed when an attacker drove a car packed with explosives into a police social club in al-Arish, not far from the plane crash site.

'Heat flash'

The Russian rescue teams had already examined the area of 30sq km around the crash site by Wednesday, officials told Russian media.

Image copyright EVN
Image caption Russian rescue teams have begun flying drones to scan the remote terrain
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Investigators hope the examination of the black boxes would help provide clues as to what caused the plane to crash

However, no more bodies have been found in the past 24 hours.

Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov then decided to widen the search area and use drones.

"If you need to sift through the sand where the remains or pieces of the fuselage could be, do it," he said, as he chaired a Moscow meeting to co-ordinate the search operation.

The rescue teams say they will comb every metre until they are sure all the victims' remains and their belongings have been recovered, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in St Petersburg reports.

More than 140 bodies have been flown from Egypt to St Petersburg and 33 victims have already been identified, Russian officials say. One body has been returned to relatives.

In many cases, the identification has to be done using DNA tests. Samples have now been sent to Moscow to try to speed up the process.

Meanwhile, Egyptian investigators together with experts from Russia and the Republic of Ireland, where the Airbus 321 was registered, are examining the flight recorders.

The experts hope the examination of the recorded onboard conversations as well as flight data will help provide clues about the cause of the crash.

Media captionPresident Sisi said the area of Sinai concerned was "under our full control"

Kogalymavia earlier this week blamed "external influence", but the head of Russia's aviation agency said such talk was premature.

Russia's Interfax news agency on Tuesday quoted a source as saying that the voice recordings did not suggest the crew was aware of any faults.

"The situation onboard four minutes before the aircraft disappeared from the radars was normal, the crew had regular conversations with flight operations officers," the source said.

The US broadcaster CBS News reported that a US satellite had detected a "heat flash" over the Sinai at the time of the crash.

It said the data was still being analysed and that although the flash could have been caused by a bomb, a fuel tank or engine explosion was also possible.

During his interview, President Sisi warned against jumping to conclusions.

"When there is propaganda that it crashed because of Isis [IS], this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt," he said.

"Believe me, the situation in Sinai - especially in this limited area - is under our full control."

Media captionRichard Westcott reports on the ongoing investigation into the crash

Militants launched an insurgency in the Sinai following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. They stepped up their attacks after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in mid-2013.

A year ago, the insurgents renamed their movement Sinai Province and pledged alliance to IS. Hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed.

After the crash, Sinai Province issued a written statement and an audio message saying that it brought down the passenger jet.

On Wednesday, Sinai Province published an audio message, saying the group carried out the attack on the first Islamic anniversary of the date they pledged allegiance to IS.

An unidentified Sinai Province speaker said: "We are the ones who brought it [plane] down… and we will not be forced into explaining how we brought it down".

The speaker added that the analysis of the flight recorders and the plane wreckage would prove this.

However, experts doubt the group possesses the weapons capable of bringing down an airliner flying at a high altitude from the ground.

Timeline: the course of flight KGL9268

05:58 Egyptian time (03:58 GMT): Flight leaves Sharm el-Sheikh, a statement from the Egyptian cabinet says

06:14 Egyptian time (04:14 GMT): Plane fails to make scheduled contact with air traffic control based in Larnaca, Cyprus, according to Sergei Izdolsky, an official with Russia's air transport agency

06:17 Egyptian time, approx (04:17 GMT): Plane comes down over the Sinai peninsula, according to Airbus

11:12 Egyptian time (09:12 GMT): Flight had been due to land in St Petersburg's Pulkovo airport

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