What We Know So Far
- An Airbus A-321 operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia, or Metrojet, crashed onto Egypt's volatile Sinai peninsula shortly after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh on Oct. 31.
- There were 217 passengers, most of whom are thought to be Russian tourists, and seven crew members on board. There were no survivors.
- A Russian aviation official said the plane disintegrated in the air and its wreckage was scattered over a large area.
- On Thursday, U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said there was a "significant possibility" the jet was downed by an ISIS bomb, and Prime Minister David Cameron conceded the crash was "more likely than not" caused by a terrorist bomb.
- The U.K. announced it would suspend Sinai flights as precaution Thursday.
- Flights resumed early Friday, but confusion and anger spread through Sharm el-Sheikh airport. EasyJet said Egyptian authorities had prevented 80% of its scheduled flights to the U.K. leaving. However, Egyptian and U.K. officials cast doubt on this claim.
- On Friday afternoon, the head of Russia's Federal Security Bureau suggested a temporary suspension of flights to Egypt. A short while later, President Vladimir Putin agreed to the request.
- The U.S. announced enhanced security measures for U.S.-bound flights from "foreign airports" in the Sinai Peninsula region.
Officials are "90% sure" the Russian passenger jet was brought down by a bomb, new reports claimed.
Referring to comments made by a member of the air accident investigation team to Reuters in Egypt, Sky News said investigators are increasingly confident that noises heard on the flight's black box recorders were a planned explosion.
The revelation comes as a U.S. official told CNN that "it's 99.9% certain" a bomb caused last Saturday's Metrojet crash, where all 224 passengers were killed.
"We believe it was likely brought down by a bomb," another official told CNN.
Egyptian air crash investigators probing the cause of the Russian jet crash said Saturday a noise was captured in the final second of the cockpit voice recording.
In a press conference, Ayman el Mokadem, who is heading the investigation committee, told reporters "a spectrum analysis will be carried out by specialized labs in order to identify the nature of this sound."
Flight recorders were recovered immediately after the plane's wreckage was located, with the data successfully downloaded for analysis.
A preliminary review of the data found the cockpit voice recording lasted 23 minutes and 14 seconds, and the plane was still climbing in altitude when the recording cut off.
Officials said their visits to the crash site in the Sinai have been hampered by bad weather since Wednesday.
Wreckage will be moved to a "safe and secure place" in Cairo for examination, officials said.
"The debris is scattered over a wide area more than 13 km [8.07 miles] in length...which is consistent with an in-flight break-up," El Mokadem said. "Some parts of the wreckage are missing and it is hoped to locate them in the coming days."
El Mokadem said the committee has come up with "no conclusions" yet as to the cause of the crash.
"The committee is considering with great attention all possible scenarios for the cause of the accident," he said.
Egypt says intelligence that an explosion brought down the Metrojet airliner was not shared with Cairo.
"The information we have heard about has not been shared with Egyptian security agencies in detail. We were expecting that the technical information would be provided to us," Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday, according to Sky News.
He accused the U.K., U.S. and other countries of not sharing intelligence with the Egyptian government amid calls for greater coordination to fight terrorism.
ISIS militants operating in Sinai have claimed responsibility for bringing down the plane in the area. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he believed the cause of the crash was "more likely than not" a bomb, according to intelligence received by the U.K. government.
"While the investigation is still ongoing we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed," a No. 10 spokesperson said in a statement. "But as more information has come to light we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device."
Several European countries have blocked flights to Sharm el-Sheikh as investigations into the causes of the crash continue. Egypt fears that the incident will have a severe effect on tourism in the popular holiday destination, which was visited by approximately three million tourists in 2014, according to The Guardian.
ISIS operatives bragged about taking down a passenger plane shortly after the Russian Metrojet plane crashed last weekend, NBC News reported Friday.
U.S. Intelligence officials picked up chatter from ISIS operatives, officials told the network, where they were "celebrating" and discussing how the plane was taken down.
Another intercept collected before the crash between the operatives also discussed that "something big in the area" was about to happen, NBC News reported, hinting but not mentioning specifics about a plane.
The new details add to speculation that the plane carrying 224 passengers might have been destroyed by a bomb on board, which British Prime Minister David Cameron said is "more likely than not" and President Obama called "certainly possible."
Multiple news outlets have reported that U.S. intelligence on the crash suggests ISIS, or one of its affiliates in the Sinai Peninsula, were involved in bringing the plane down.
Egyptian officials, who are investigating the crash, have declined to offer any speculation on the crash until they complete the official investigation.
Flight recorders onboard the Russian Metrojet plane that crashed in Egypt's Sinai suggest a sudden explosion brought down the passenger aircraft, multiple news outlets reported Friday.
Egyptian officials said Friday the cockpit voice recorder from the plane was recovered and still functional, a vital tool as investigators look to uncover the cause of the crash.
Investigators told France 2 that the audio recording suggests there was a sudden explosion on board. According to the report, the first 24 minutes of the flight appeared normal, followed by a sudden blackout, suggesting an explosion on board.
"Everything is normal, absolutely normal during the flight, and suddenly nothing," the source said. "This goes in the direction of the suddenness, the immediacy of the event."
CBS News also reported an explosion was captured on the recorder, and that Russian officials have requested the help of the FBI to investigate the crash.
Officials have stressed that the cause of the crash has not yet been pinpointed, but that evidence suggests it may have been brought down intentionally with a bomb.
The U.S. will increase security measures for U.S.-bound flights from airports in the Sinai Peninsula, the Department of Homeland Security announced Friday.
In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh C. Johnson, announced that the additional security measures were identified "out of an abundance of caution" while the Metrojet cash was still under investigation.
Johnson said that measures would be put into place for commercial flights bound for the U.S. from "certain foreign airports" in the Sinai Peninsula region where the crash occurred. There are no direct commercial flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to the U.S., but the measures were "designed to provide an additional layer of security for the traveling public," Johnson said.
The measures include expanded screening for items on the aircrafts, airport assessments and offers of assistance in airport security and other safety measures to certain foreign airports.
"While we cannot discuss the full details of our aviation security measures, or the enhancements noted today, I want to assure the traveling public that the Department of Homeland Security is working closely with our domestic and international partners to evaluate the cause of the crash of Flight 9268, and will continue to take appropriate precautionary security measures," Johnson said.
First plane from Sharm el-Sheikh arrived in the UK, since all flights were stopped over security concerns, BBC reported.
The EasyJet flight was one of eight scheduled services to fly from Sharm el-Sheikh to the UK on Friday, Egypt said. It is due to arrive in Luton. This was the first plane to fly out of the Sinai Peninsula since UK authorities suspended all flights on Wednesday after concerns that the Russian plane was brought down by a bomb.
Monarch, Thomas Cook, Thomson, British Airways and EasyJet will operate the other seven flights scheduled to fly to the UK on Friday, the BBC reported.
“It was awful being stranded out there, the British embassy were absolutely useless,” Becky, a passenger arriving back in England from Sharm el-Sheikh told BuzzFeed News' Fiona Rutherford who met flights arriving at London Gatwick.
ABC reported Egyptian government officials as saying that the bomb causing the plane crash was the "most plausible scenario."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed with the head of the country's security bureau's suggestion that all flights to Egypt be suspended, AP reported.
When asked if the decision to suspend flights to Egypt means the theory that a bomb brought down the plane was the most likely, Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said, "Of course it doesn't mean that," Interfax, a Russian news agency, reported.
"As before, no theory dominates, as there are no clear indications in favor of that version," Peskov said.
The head of Russia's Federal Security Bureau (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov on Friday suggested Russia will temporarily suspend all flights to Egypt in the wake of last week's plane crash in Sinai.
So far, Russia has been skeptical of claims the crash could have been caused by a bomb placed in the hold of the plane at Sharm El-Sheikh airport — concerns which led to the U.K. government grounding British flights from the resort Thursday.
However, during an anti-terror committee meeting Friday afternoon, Bortnikov said "it would be reasonable" to put a short-term halt on flights in place, "until the true causes of the air crash are established" AP and Interfax reported.
He added that authorities would need "absolutely objective and confirmed data" on the cause of the crash.
Egypt's civil aviation authority said that only 8 of the planned 29 U.K.-bound flights from Sharm El-Sheikh airport would take off today, including two EasyJet flights which have already departed, according to The Guardian.
Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal told AP the capacity issues are due to the airport's inability to deal with hold luggage left behind by British flights: "This big volume will affect the smooth operation of the rest of the domestic and international flights."
British tourists have been left in limbo with the confusion surrounding canceled and delayed flights in Sharm El-Sheikh, BuzzFeed News' Rossalyn Warren writes. U.K. ambassador to Egypt John Casson was involved in an angry confrontation at the airport.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesperson has described the situation in Sharm El-Sheikh as "fluid and complex," and said a broken down plane at the airport has not helped repatriation efforts. BuzzFeed News' Emily Ashton reports from Westminster:
The Downing Street spokesman said talks with the Egyptian authorities are ongoing:"There are discussions that are ongoing, I'm not getting in depth. Clearly this is a fluid situation on the ground. It's not been helped by a broken-down plane at the airport as well which is further causing issues with getting planes in and out."
Despite the chaos unfolding in Sharm El-Sheikh, the spokesman said the Prime Minister stood by Thursday's decision to ground flights in the resort: "When the PM was speaking he made clear he understood how frustrating this was for anyone caught up in this situation but that ultimately his priority absolutely must be their safety. And when presented with credible evidence that the Russian plane crash at the weekend potentially could have been the result of a bomb meant that he took this decision and he remains firmly of that view."
Confusion now reigns over the status of British repatriation flights scheduled to leave Sharm El-Sheikh airport Friday, after budget airline EasyJet said it grounded eight out of ten of flights scheduled to leave the resort.
Britain's ambassador to Egypt John Casson told reporters at Sharm El-Sheikh airport that no flights have been canceled, despite EasyJet's earlier statement.
Monarch Airlines, who also operate flights between the U.K. and Sharm El-Sheikh said they believed all their flights from the resort would take off as scheduled Friday. "As far as we are aware all five of our planes are going to take off as scheduled and we have not heard anything to change that from the Egyptian authorities," Monarch officials said, according to ITV News.
Egypt's aviation ministry also denied it had blocked flights from taking off at the airport, saying instead they were limited by capacity. A ministry spokesman told Reuters: "Flying out thousands of people on one day is incredibly hard. Everyone has to go through the procedures. We have not cancelled any flights but the airport cannot handle all these planes at once."
EasyJet confirmed to BuzzFeed News they stand by their original statement.
Meanwhile, the first of the two EasyJet flights still scheduled to leave Sharm El-Sheikh has departed.
British airline EasyJet cancelled flights into Sharm El-Sheikh Friday morning, saying Egyptian authorities had suspended U.K. flights into the resort. The move will scupper the U.K. government's plans to repatriate stranded tourists.
The company posted a statement to passengers on the front page of its website:
The Egyptian authorities have currently suspended UK airlines from flying into Sharm El Sheikh, which means that your flight will not now operate today.
We are working with the UK Government at the highest level on a solution. In the meantime we are also developing a contingency plan so we can bring you home as early as possible as soon as we get permission to fly.
We understand this is extremely frustrating for you, but please stay in your hotel and be assured we will cover the costs of your accommodation and reasonable expenses.
We will keep you updated as soon as we have more information. While this is outside of our control, we apologize and would like to thank you for your understanding and patience.
An EasyJet statement emailed to BuzzFeed News said that two of the ten planned flights from Sharm El-Sheikh would continue to operate:
The Egyptian authorities have currently suspended UK airlines from flying into Sharm el Sheikh. This means that eight of easyJet's 10 planned flights today will no longer be able to operate.
We are working with the UK Government at the highest level on a solution. In the meantime we are also working on a contingency plan so we can operate as soon as we receive permission to fly.
Two flights will be departing from Sharm el Sheikh shortly which are as follows:
EZY9398 Sharm el Sheikh to London Luton
EZY9854 Sharm el Sheikh to London Gatwick
This means that we will get 339 passengers home today.
EasyJet put an updated statement on their website a short while later:
The situation in Sharm el Sheikh has changed and rescue plans that were put in place yesterday have been suspended by the Egyptian authorities. Discussions are currently on-going at the highest political level to resolve this situation. We are very sorry and understand that this is extremely frustrating for you – unfortunately the situation is outside of easyJet's control. Please stay or make your way back to the hotel you have been staying in, and be assured we will pick up the cost of this.
Some British flights have resumed in Sharm El Sheikh as of Friday morning. Passengers are carrying only hand luggage due to security concerns.
U.K. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin saying he hoped all of the roughly 3.500 British tourists who had been waiting in the resort since Wednesday would be returned home by the end of the day, The Guardian reported.
No luggage will be kept in the plane's holds, amid fears the bomb which downed a Russian jet in Sinai last week was planted there.
President Obama said Thursday he thinks "there is a possibility that there was a bomb on board and we're taking that very seriously."
The president made the comments to Seattle-based KIRO FM, expanding on earlier statements indicating the White House was taking seriously claims that a bomb caused the plane to crash.
Despite the comments from Obama — as well as similar remarks from British officials — Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Thursday he had not received intelligence from the U.S. or the U.K.
Egypt is leading the investigation into the crash. During an interview with CNN, Shoukry mentioned a conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, but said he had not received information about a potential ISIS connection.
President Obama said the United States is taking claims "very seriously" that the Russian plane that crashed in Sinai was downed by a bomb, the AP reported.
British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed the crash with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying, the safety of British citizens was his primary concern.
A Downing Street statement on the phone call between Cameron and Putin:
The Prime Minister reiterated his condolences over the loss of Russian life in the Sinai plane crash. He explained that, as more information had come to light, our concerns that the plane may have been brought down by an explosive device had increased. We had therefore taken the difficult decision to suspend flights into and out of Sharm el-Sheikh as a precautionary measure, while we sought urgent reinforcement of security measures at the airport. The safety of British citizens was our primary concern.
The Prime Minister and President Putin agreed we face a common threat from terrorism. The President expressed his thanks for the call and his understanding for our concern for the safety of British citizens. They agreed to keep in close touch as the investigation progressed.
Monarch and EasyJet said they would operate flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to the UK on Friday to bring tourists back home.
Monarch said it would operate three "rescue flights" on Friday along with two normally scheduled from Sharm to Gatwick and Manchester, the Guardian reported.
EasyJet said it will operate nine flights from Sharm to the UK on Friday.
Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said UK had checked the Sinai airport security 10 months ago and was "happy" with it.
At a press conference Thursday, Sisi said a British security team had checked the Sharm el-Sheikh airport 10 months ago and found it satisfactory, the Guardian reported. "They were happy with that," he said.
CNN, citing multiple U.S. officials, said current intelligence "suggests" that a bomb was planted before takeoff and that "that someone inside Sharm el-Sheikh airport could have helped."
Turkish Airlines told BuzzFeed News it will only fly between Istanbul and Sharm el-Sheikh during daylight hours while its security team assesses the airport's safety.
Turkish Airlines, one of the major operators to Sharm el-Sheikh, canceled two of its flights operating on Thursday night between Istanbul and Sharm el-Sheikh.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News Turkish Airlines said:
"In response to recent events, Turkish Airlines is sending a dedicated and specialist security team to Sharm el-Sheikh to assess the current procedures within the airport. On receipt of their report, Turkish Airlines will take the necessary decisions and actions with regards their flight programme. Whilst this on-site survey is taking place, Turkish Airlines has confirmed that flights between Istanbul and Sharm el-Sheikh will only take off in daylight hours."
Germany's Lufthansa Group suspends all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
The airline said Thursday that it was canceling its weekly subsidiary flights "due to the current situation on the Sinai Peninsula," the Associated Press reported.
The airline said it would work with the German Foreign Ministry to ensure passengers in Sharm el-Sheikh would safely return home.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the Russian plane crash over Egypt's Sinai peninsula on Saturday was "more likely than not" caused by a terrorist bomb in an interview with British news channels Thursday.
He conceded that they "cannot be certain" that the plane was brought down by a bomb, but his government needed to "take the actions necessary" to protect British lives.
Cameron added it would "take some time" to bring British tourists back from Sharm El-Sheikh after flights were grounded.
Cameron also tweeted that he had chaired an emergency COBRA committee meeting over how to ensure U.K. visitors to Sinai get home safely.
Egypt official says it is "too early" to say an ISIS bomb brought down the Russian jet.
"It is too early to say that," said one Egyptian government official who spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity. "I think the British jumped to hasty conclusions." Egypt is still examining the black box and the crash site, and officials say there has been no evidence supporting claims of a bomb on board.
But amid investigations, Egypt appointed Emad Basily to become the new manager of Sharm el Sheikh international airport, replacing Abdel Wahab Ali, who has now been made an assistant to one of the ministers. Neither Ali nor Basily would return requests for an interview.
According to a military source who spoke to BuzzFeed, Egyptian army will be deploying a battalion to surround the airport for "precautionary measures." No official statements have been made about the deployment.
Russia also cast doubts, the AP reported:
A spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, insisted that aviation investigators were working on all possible theories as to why the Airbus A321-200 crashed Saturday in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula 23 minutes after taking off, killing everyone on board. He said naming just one possibility was mere speculation.
"One cannot rule out a single theory, but at this point there are no reasons to voice just one theory as reliable — only investigators can do that," Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said if Britain had information about a bomb on the plane, it's "really shocking" that hasn't been shared with Russia.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told Sky News Thursday morning that there is a "significant possibility" the Russian jet which crashed in Sinai, Egypt was downed by an ISIS bomb, but stopped short of accepting the group's claim of responsibility.
He said that although the ISIS claim is a "matter of public record", there was a "significant possibility it was brought down by an explosive device."
He added that there will only be "a conclusive finding once the investigation is done" but the British government had to "err on the side of caution," adding "we can't wait for outcome of inquiry, we have to take action now."
He said that that the ban on U.K.-bound flights to Sharm El-Sheikh could remain in place for "days, weeks, months," but said "emergency short-term measures" would be enacted to get tourists home from Friday.
Beyond that, Hammond said "sustainable routine measures" to ensure the safety of flights over Sinai would be sought with Egyptian authorities and airlines, but he was unable to say whether the timeframe would be days or months.
He said that, from tomorrow: "Airlines will make arrangements to be able to bring passengers back at the time of their initially scheduled flights ... unless of course they want to come home early."
On the intelligence Britain used to make the decision to stop flights, Hammond said: "We will share our conclusions with all our partners, and I expect that our partners will draw their own conclusions in the next day or so."
You can watch a clip of the interview with Hammond here:
The U.K. announced Wednesday it is suspending flights to and from Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh airport amid concern that the plane that crashed Saturday "may well have been brought down by an explosive device."
Following is the full statement released by the Prime Minister's office:
"We want to update you on our response to the plane crash in Sinai this weekend.
"Since then, we have been following the investigation closely to make sure that we take any steps necessary to ensure the safety of British citizens on flights from Sharm. That will always be our priority.
"The Prime Minister called President Sisi yesterday evening to discuss what measures the Egyptians are taking to ensure the tightest possible security arrangements at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.
"While the investigation is still ongoing we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed. But as more information has come to light we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.
"In light of this and as a precautionary measure we have decided that flights due to leave Sharm for the UK this evening will be delayed. That will allow time for a team of UK aviation experts, currently travelling to Sharm, to make an assessment of the security arrangements in place at the airport and to identify whether any further action is required. We expect this assessment to be completed tonight.
"In terms of flights from the UK to Sharm, there are no more departures today.
"We would underline that this is a precautionary step and we are working closely with the airlines on this approach. The Prime Minister will chair a COBR at 18.45 to review the situation and we will provide an update after that meeting.
"We recognise that this information may cause concern for those in Sharm and indeed for those planning to travel to Sharm in the coming days. We have deployed extra consular staff to Sharm who will be on hand at the airport, working with the airlines, to assist British holidaymakers there. For others, either in resorts at Sharm or planning a holiday to Sharm in the coming days, our advice is to contact your airline or tour operator."
"At this stage we are not changing the level of our Travel Advice."
Cockpit recordings acquired from the plane's black box on Tuesday revealed "unusual sounds" seconds before the plane disappeared, a Russian news service reported.
A transcript of the cockpit recordings was examined by Russian and Egyptian officials investigating Saturday's crash, Interfax, a Russian non-government news service reported. The last conversation between the pilots and air traffic controllers, which took place four minutes before the aircraft went off the radar, officials said, was calm and routine.
An anonymous source told Interfax that just after the normal conversation, "sounds uncharacteristic of routine flight were recorded preceding the moment that the aircraft disappeared from radar screens." This indicated a "sudden and unexpected" development, the source added. Interfax gave no further information, and investigators have not yet confirmed their reports.
There is no proof the plane broke up in midair, Egyptian officials said Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Egypt's civil aviation ministry said there are no facts to prove Russian officials' claims that the plane broke up in midair, Reuters reported.
"This could be a long process and we can't talk about the results as we go along," the ministry's spokesperson, Mohamed Rahmi, said.
Rahmi added that there was no distress call from the pilot before the crash. Officials will focus on analyzing the contents of the black boxes, which were reportedly found in good condition.
Egyptian authorities say a joint committee is to start examining the crashed Metrojet planes's black boxes, the Associated Press reported.
A satellite captured a flash of infrared activity over the Sinai peninsula at the time the Russian plane crashed, NBC and CNN reported.
According to NBC, the heat flash was consistent with an explosion of some kind aboard the plane. It ruled out the possibility that the plane was struck by a missile, an unnamed official told NBC.
It's still not clear what may have caused the explosion, but "the speculation that this plane was brought down by a missile is off the table," the official told NBC.
There is still no evidence the crash was the result of terrorism, but officials also haven't ruled the possibility out. The explosion may have been caused by a rupturing fuel tank or it could have been a bomb, the official told NBC.
The Russian government plane flew 130 bodies, and 40 body parts, to St. Petersburg, according to the AP.
Family members of the victims have already given DNA samples to expedite the identification of the remains.
Russian Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said Russian and Egyptian emergency workers will not stop their search for victims until all the remains are recovered.
There is no evidence yet that the Russian plane that crashed over the Sinai, killing 224 people, was brought down due to terrorist involvement, the U.S. national intelligence director said Monday morning.
"We don't have any direct evidence of terrorist involvement yet," Clapper said.
"ISIL in a tweet claimed responsibility for it and there is a very aggressive ISIL chapter in the Sinai, but we really don't know."
"I think once the black boxes have been analyzed, which they've recovered, perhaps we'll know more," he said.
The U.S., Germany, and Britain all had overflight warnings in place until 2016 for the Sinai Peninsula, according to the AP.
The warnings directed airlines to avoid flying over the the area below 26,000 feet, and to avoid the Sharm el-Sheik airport because of extremist violence and the use of anti-aircraft weapons that can hit planes at high altitudes.
Egypt's civil aviation authority replied to the warnings, stating that "all necessary measures for safeguarding the airspace are already taken from our side."
Russian Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov has told Rossiya 24 TV that recovery teams finished combing a 20km square area of Egypt's Sinai peninsula for bodies Monday afternoon following Saturday's plane crash, TASS Agency reported. Puchkov said:
"We completed a survey of the territory on the area of more than 20 square kilometers. The search area will be expanded to 30 square kilometers.
Rescuers are working in difficult conditions of hot weather in a desert terrain. That is why we are using all our potential, namely special searchers, unmanned aerial vehicles of the Russian make and all state-of-the-art technologies that facilitate work in difficult conditions.
We will continue the search operation as long as it will be needed, until all the dead are found, flown home and until we complete all procedural matters connected with the probe into this tragedy."
The deputy director general of Metrojet said on Monday in Moscow that "external factors" were to blame for the Russian airline's Airbus plane breaking up in midair over Egypt's Sinai peninsula Saturday.
Alexander Smirnov told reporters that it would have been impossible for a "technical or pilot fault" to cause the plane to crash in such a manner, the Associated Press reported. He said that the disaster could only have been caused by "a mechanical impact on the plane."
So far, Russian investigators have said the plane broke up at high altitude, but have stopped short of naming specific possible causes.
The aircraft experienced a sudden drop in speed immediately prior to the crash, Smirnov said.
Another official from the airline admitted that the plane's tail was damaged during in an incident in 2001. However, he said the damage had been repaired and that it was unlikely this was a factor in Saturday's crash, the BBC reported.
The bodies of 144 of the victims of the Russian passenger plane that crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula Saturday were flown to St. Petersburg's Pulkovo international airport early Monday morning.
The plane landed in the northern Russian city at around 6 a.m. local time Monday (10 p.m. ET Sunday), Reuters reported. The victims' bodies were moved from the plane to a large white lorry on stretchers. The identification process as scheduled to start in a local morgue at 11 a.m. local time.
Speaking during a televised news conference Monday evening, Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said a second plane carrying victims' remains would arrive in St Petersburg on Monday evening, AP reported.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a national day of mourning Sunday following the deaths of all 224 people aboard the Metrojet Airbus A321-200. All but five of those aboard were Russian.
The city of St. Petersburg — where the plane was bound to from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh — is observing three days of mourning until Tuesday. Residents of the city brought flowers and other tributes to the airport on Sunday, while others lit candles to commemorate in churches and the cathedral, according to AP.
The Russian passenger jet that crashed in Egypt on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board, broke up in the air, a Russian aviation official has said.
Victor Sorochenko, the executive director of the Interstate Aviation Committee, said the A321 airliner disintegrated in the air and its wreckage then scattered over a large area of roughly 7.7 square miles, according to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.
However, it was too early to determine the cause of the crash, he said. Sorochenko spoke to reporters after touring the crash site in Egypt's Sinai region with other international aviation inspectors.
Photos on Sunday showed Egyptian soldiers guarding the luggage and belongings of the victims of the crash, while others stood by wreckage and twisted debris from the plane.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday morning to express his condolences for those killed in Saturday's airliner crash.
A spokesperson for Downing Street said that Britain shared the grief and pain of the Russian people.
They added that Putin welcomed Cameron's offer of help "if there was anything we could do to establish the reasons behind the crash."
The co-pilot of the ill-fated flight, Sergei Trukachev, had complained about the plane's condition before taking off, his wife has said on Russian television.
Natalya Trukhacheva told state-run NTV that their daughter "called him up before he flew out. He complained before the flight that the technical condition of the aircraft left much to be desired," AP reported.
Tributes were left for the victims of Russian airliner crash at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo airport as Russia held a national day of mourning on Sunday.
A special reception center for families of the victims had been set up at the airport.
One man whose wife was on the plane told Reuters of his final contact with her, saying: "At 6 a.m. she sent me a text message saying: 'I'm boarding. God be with me.' And that was it."
On Saturday evening Russian news site LifeNews published a list of the names of passengers traveling on the flight.
There were 138 women, 62 men, and 17 children on board, and Egyptian officials confirmed that there were no survivors.
The first pictures of the crash site have been released by the Egyptian prime minister's office.
Prime Minister Shereef Ismail toured the crash site in the al-Hasanah area in North Sinai on Saturday afternoon. He was accompanied by the country's tourism and health ministers, according to officials.
The photos showed twisted wreckage lying in a barren landscape, while articles of clothing were also visible scattered across the crash site.
Writing on Twitter, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said four of his country's nationals were killed in the crash. Egyptian officials had previously said three Ukrainians were onboard.
Two airlines, Lufthansa and Air France, have decided to avoid flying over Egypt's Sinai region in the wake of the Russian jet crash, Reuters reported.
Spokespeople for the airlines said the decision was made for safety reasons.
"We took the decision to avoid the area because the situation and the reasons for the crash were not clear," a Lufthansa spokesperson told Reuters. "We will continue to avoid the area until it is clear what caused the crash."
"Air France confirms it has set up, as a precaution, measures to avoid flights over the zone of Sinai," an airline spokesperson for Air France said.
Emergency workers have begun transporting the victims' bodies to a morgue in Cairo.
"A medical team has given serial numbers to the bodies of the dead who were found in the site of the crash to start taking the required samples and other measures to identify the bodies," Egyptian officials said in a statement.
According to Egyptian officials, 214 of the passengers were from Russia, while three were Ukrainian.
ISIS supporters released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack but didn't specify how they brought the plane down.
But Egyptian officials were quick to brush it off.
"This is ridiculous," a high-ranking official in the Egyptian military intelligence told BuzzFeed News. "The plane was flying at an altitude of 31,000 feet, out of the range of any weapons on the ground."
Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov also said the claim "cannot be considered reliable," according to the Russian Interfax news agency.
A passenger list has been released by the Russian Association of Tour Operators.
Egyptian Prime Minister Shereef Ismail has traveled to the crash site in the al-Hasanah area in North Sinai, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreigh Affairs said.
Accompanied by ministers of tourism and health, he will follow up on evacuation operations on the ground, the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page.
The ministry confirmed that it is working with Russian authorities on an investigation into the crash.
"An investigation team from the ministry of civil aviation [is] headed for the site of the crash to start a probe into the reasons of the accident," the ministry said.
Officials added that it was "premature to decide the reasons of the crash and that the whole issue is now under investigation to clarify its reasons."
The prime minister of Egypt is Sheeref Ismail. A previous version of this post incorrectly named the prime minister as Ibrahim Mahlab, who is a former prime minister.