148 people (mostly French) die in Egypt jet crash
CAIRO, Egypt - A charter airliner carrying 148 people — mostly French tourists — crashed into the Red Sea on Saturday shortly after taking off from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, officials said. No survivors were reported.
The crash occurred amid a week of heightened concerns about terrorist threats from the air that have led to increased security and canceled flights around the world. But Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry called the crash an "accident" that may have been caused by a mechanical problem.
The Boeing 737 jet, which disappeared from radar after it took off shortly before 5 a.m., was headed to Cairo for a crew change before continuing to Paris. No distress call was made, airport officials said on customary condition of anonymity.
The military sent helicopters and small patrol boats into an area full of floating suitcases and other debris to search for survivors. One body was recovered and a marine official in a nearby port said at least 50 body parts were retrieved.
Family members waiting to pick up their loved ones at Charles de Gaulle early Saturday were pulled aside by airport authorities and taken by shuttle bus to a hotel near the airport. There, they learned the fate of flight.
"Up until now, the cause is a technical one," Minister of Civil Aviation Ahmed Shafeeq later told state-run Egyptian television. "There was a malfunction that made it difficult for the crew to ... save the plane."
France's deputy transportation minister, Dominique Bussereau, said Saturday that the flight had a problem on takeoff and crashed when it tried to turn back. He spoke during a press conference at Charles de Gaulle airport, where the flight had been scheduled to arrive at 9 a.m.
A French Embassy official in Cairo, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that he had a list of people aboard that showed 134 French tourists, one Moroccan tourist and 13 crew members.
Airport officials earlier said there were 135 passengers and six crew members. The trip was organized by FRAM, one of France's biggest tour operators.
Looking pale and shaken, a couple in their 50s arrived at the Charles de Gaulle terminal early Saturday. The man asked an airport official: "My children are at Sharm. How do I find out if they were on the plane?"
The couple was then taken to the crisis center.
French authorities will help Egypt "in order to shed light as quickly as possible on this catastrophe that has plunged our country into mourning," Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said in a statement.
French anti-terrorism authorities in Paris said they did not expect to open an investigation because the crash appeared to have been an accident.
Air Flash, which operated the airliner, said in a statement that the wreckage was found about nine miles from the airport, according to the Egyptian news agency MENA. Engineers from the national carrier EgyptAir were helping to determine what happened.
Air Flash said the 737 was one of just two it owned. The company said it has been in business for six years, but provided few other details in its statement carried by MENA.
At the airline's offices in Cairo, about 20 people had gathered, including weeping relatives of crew members and some journalists.
The weather was clear in Sharm el-Sheikh, 300 miles southeast of Cairo on the Sinai peninsula, and other flights were taking off without incident, officials said.
The Boeing 737 had flown in early Saturday from Milan, Italy, dropping off passengers in Sharm el-Sheikh, the airline said. New passengers then boarded for the flight to Paris via Cairo.
The airplane received its maintenance checks in Norway and the most recent one showed no problems, the airline said.
French President Jacques Chirac phoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (news - web sites) to discuss the crash, MENA said.
Sharm el-Sheik is a popular Red Sea tourist resort that also frequently hosts major political and economic summits. Egypt has held several meetings on Middle East peace there, including one in which President Bush (news - web sites) met with regional leaders in June over the "road map" plan toward creating a Palestinian state.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) was vacationing at the resort, but a spokeswoman at his office in London said neither Blair nor any members of his family were aboard the Air Flash plane.
Egypt's last major airline disaster occurred in 1999, when an EgyptAir jetliner crashed shortly after leaving New York en route to Cairo, killing all 217 people aboard.
Last edited by spiceboy; Jan 3rd, 2004 at 12:55 PM.