The Latest: Sharm el-Sheikh airport chief has been replaced

AP News
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Posted: Nov 04, 2015 6:35 PM
The Latest: Sharm el-Sheikh airport chief has been replaced

MOSCOW (AP) — The latest on Saturday's crash of a Russian plane in Egypt that killed 224 people. All times local.

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1:40 a.m.

The head of Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh airport has been replaced amid growing international concern that the Russian plane which crashed after departing from the airport was downed by a bomb.

Adel Mahgoub, chairman of the state company that runs Egypt's civilian airports, says airport chief Abdel-Wahab Ali has been "promoted" to become his assistant. He said the move late Wednesday had nothing to do with media skepticism surrounding the airport's security.

Mahgoub said Ali is being replaced by Emad el-Balasi, a pilot.

All 224 aboard the plane were killed in the Saturday morning crash. U.S. and British officials earlier Wednesday said they suspect the plane may have been brought down by a bomb and Britain said it was suspending flights to and from the Sinai Peninsula as a precaution.

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1:20 a.m.

Officials in Egypt insist Sharm el-Sheikh airport is safe and say they wished Britain had waited for the result of the ongoing investigation of the Russian plane crash before suspending flights to the airport.

A top aviation official told The Associated Press that teams from Russian and British airlines assessed Sharm el-Sheikh airport security procedures on Wednesday and "left without making a single remark about it."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Egypt's presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef added "we were wishing they would wait for the result of the ongoing investigation."

All 224 people aboard the Airbus A321-200 were killed in the Saturday morning crash that came 23 minutes after the plane took off from the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai.

—By Nour Youssef in Cairo

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12:45 a.m.

A U.S. official briefed on the matter says U.S. intelligence agencies have assembled preliminary evidence that a bomb brought down the Russian airliner.

The official says intercepted communications played a role in the tentative conclusion that the Islamic State group's Sinai affiliate planted an explosive device on the plane.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, and others said there had been no formal judgment rendered by the CIA or other intelligence agencies, and that forensic evidence from the blast site, including the airplane's black box, were still being analyzed.

- By Ken Dilanian in Washington.

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12:10 a.m.

The deputy head of Sharm el-Sheikh airport says Britain acted too hastily when it decided to suspend flights to the airport following the crash of a Russian plane in the region.

Hany Ramsay says Britain's conclusion that the plane may have been brought down by a bomb comes "too soon" and may be aimed at damaging the country's vital tourism sector.

"Other countries might soon follow them. They want to hurt tourism and cause confusion," Ramsey told the AP Wednesday. He suggested that ulterior political and commercial motives may be behind the British statement.

The Russian jet had left Sharm el-Sheikh airport shortly before it crashed over the Sinai Peninsula early Saturday, killing all 224 people on board.

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11:30 p.m.

Ireland has followed the British lead and directed Irish airlines to suspend flights to Sharm el-Sheikh Airport following the crash of a Russian airliner that killed all 224 people on board.

In a statement Wednesday, the Irish Aviation Authority urged airlines not to fly to or from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport or in the Sinai Peninsula "until further notice."

It said an update will be issued when more information becomes available.

The British government earlier Wednesday suspended flights to and from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, saying it is increasingly concerned that the Russian plane was brought down by a bomb.

British aviation experts are travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh, where the flight that crashed Saturday originated from, to assess security. It wasn't immediately clear if the Irish government would also send down a security team to Egypt.

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11:15 p.m.

Egypt has confirmed that the voice recorder of the Russian plane that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula is damaged.

Egypt's Aviation Ministry says the cockpit voice recorder of the plane is "partially damaged" and that as a result "a lot of work is required in order to extract data from it."

Russian officials earlier Wednesday said the voice recorder had suffered serious damage.

Egyptian officials could not be reached for comment on the British government's suggestion that the aircraft may have been brought down by a bomb. Britain has suspended all flights to and from Sinai as a precaution.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who arrived in London on a previously scheduled trip Wednesday, has said the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula is under "full control." He said earlier this week that the cause of the crash may not be known for months and that there should be no speculation until then.

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10:25 p.m.

Russia's Interstate Air Commission says the cockpit voice recorder from the Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt, killing 224 people, has suffered serious damage.

In a statement posted on its website Wednesday, the commission said that information from the flight's data recorder has been successfully copied and handed over to investigators, but that there was "serious mechanical damage" to the voice recorder.

The Interstate Aviation Committee is a Moscow-based organization that oversees civil aviation in much of the former Soviet Union.

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8:05 p.m.

The British government says it is increasingly concerned that a Russian jet was brought down by a bomb and is suspending flights to and from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Prime Minister David Cameron's office says British aviation experts are travelling to the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the flight that crashed Saturday originated from, to assess security before British flights there will be allowed to leave.

No British flights are flying there Wednesday.

Cameron's office at Downing St. says "we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device."

The British government's crisis committee is due to meet later Wednesday. The crash in the Sinai killed all 224 people on the Metrojet Airbus plane.

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5:55 p.m.

Egypt's Islamic State group affiliate has allegedly reiterated its claim to have downed a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula last week, killing all 224 people on board.

In an audio recording circulated among militant supporters online Wednesday, a speaker said the crash coincided with the anniversary of the group's pledge of allegiance to the IS group. The dates of the crash and the pledge roughly coincide according to the Islamic calendar.

Experts say the militants lack the sophisticated arms needed to shoot down a plane at cruising altitude. The speaker did not say how the militants brought down the jet.

The AP could not independently verify the recording but it resembled previous statements issued by the group. The U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites, picked up the recording and circulated a translation.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said an earlier IS claim was "propaganda" aimed at damaging Egypt's image.

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4:35 p.m.

Authorities are making another attempt to evaluate information from the voice recorder of the Russian plane that crashed in Egypt, after damage to the device prevented an earlier try.

Germout Freitag, spokesman for the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation, said the plane's flight data recorder had been analyzed Tuesday though results had not yet been reported.

He says the plane's cockpit voice recorder could not be immediately evaluated because of damage to it, but investigators were working on it again Wednesday.

Two Germans are helping with the investigation because the aircraft was manufactured in Germany, while French experts were involved because the plane was designed in France.

All 224 people on board the plane died when it crashed Saturday into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

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10:30 a.m.

A Russian official says families have identified the bodies of 33 victims killed in Saturday's plane crash over Egypt.

The Russian jet crashed over the Sinai Peninsula early Saturday, killing all 224 people on board. Most of them were holidaymakers from Russia's St. Petersburg.

Igor Albin, deputy governor of St. Petersburg, said in a televised conference call that as of Wednesday morning families have identified 33 bodies.

Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said rescue teams in Egypt have expanded the search area to 40 square kilometers (15 square miles).

Russian officials have refrained from announcing the cause of the crash, citing the ongoing investigation.