Russia mourns dead in Egypt plane crash
FLAGS flew at half-mast in Russia yesterday as the country mourned its biggest air disaster after a passenger jet full of Russian tourists crashed in Egypt's Sinai, killing all 224 people on board.
The flight was taking holidaymakers back to Russia's second-largest city, St Petersburg, when it went down in Sinai. Egyptian and Russian investigators have begun examining the contents of two "black box" recorders recovered from the airliner to uncover the cause of the tragedy.
Several children, including a 10-month-old baby, perished in the crash.
A militant group affiliated to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Egypt said in a statement it brought down the plane "in response to Russian air strikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land".
But Russia's Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov told Interfax news agency that the claim "can't be considered accurate".
According to Reuters, Interfax reported that Russia has grounded Airbus A321 jets flown by the Kogalymavia airline. However, RIA news agency cited a Kogalymavia representative as saying that the airline had not received the order from Russia's transport regulator, Rostransnadzor.
Flags were at half-mast on the Parliament building, in the Kremlin and on other official buildings in honour of the victims, most of whom were from St Petersburg and its surrounding region. The authorities set up a crisis centre at a hotel near the airport where relatives of the victims were invited to provide DNA samples and psychologists were on call.
Russia's state-owned rolling news channel Rossiya 24 periodically interrupted coverage with moments of silence and flashed photos of smiling crash victims apparently taken on their holiday and posted on social networks. Some people had been on their first foreign holiday, some had never flown before and one couple were on their honeymoon, the channel said.
"Many of us could have been on this plane, and this tragedy cannot leave any of us indifferent," Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church said as he led one of the religious services held yesterday in the victims' memory.
Russian investigators searched the offices of Kogalymavia airline and the country's transport watchdog said it will continue checking it until Nov 30.
Kogalymavia said on Saturday that the pilot flying the Airbus 321 was very experienced, while the authorities at the last fuel stop said there had not been any red flags.
"The plane did not undergo a technical check in Samara (in south-eastern Russia) but the crew went through a health check and it was found fit to fly," said a regional transport prosecutor's office representative, Maya Ivanova.
"There was a probe of the plane's fuel and the quality of fuel at that time and it met all of the requirements," she said in televised remarks.
Many entertainment venues in Moscow cancelled their programmes and companies planning Halloween events overnight had dropped the festivities. Media organisations turned their social network icons monochrome as a mark of respect.
Three carriers based in the United Arab Emirates airlines - Emirates, Air Arabia and flydubai - said yesterday 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.