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Egypt plane crash: Unidentified noise picked up seconds before impact

Published 07/11/2015

A passenger is handed bread and milk as she arrives at Luton Airport following her easyJet flight from Sharm el-Sheikh
A passenger is handed bread and milk as she arrives at Luton Airport following her easyJet flight from Sharm el-Sheikh

An unidentified noise was heard by on-board recorders in the final seconds before a Russian plane crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt's lead investigator into the incident said.

Ayman el-Muqadem said the sound was captured by cockpit voice recorders in the moments before the aircraft broke up in mid-air, but the origin is as-yet unknown.

Mr el-Muqadem said that investigators are looking at "all possible scenarios" as to the cause of the crash last Saturday, but confirmed the plane broke up during flight .

The aircraft was flying at 30,888ft and was still gaining altitude when it exploded, 23 minutes and 14 seconds after it left Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

Debris was found scattered over more than 13km, which Mr el-Muqadem said was consistent with a plane breaking up during flight.

The Airbus 321, operated by Russian airline Metrojet, crashed last Saturday, killing all 224 people on board.

Militants of the Islamic State (IS) terror group in the Sinai Peninsula have claimed that they downed the plane.

The wreckage is now being taken to Cairo and investigators, made up of teams from Egypt, Russia, France, Germany and Ireland, as well as advisers from Airbus, will examine it.

Mr el-Muqadem, head of the joint investigation team, said they were considering all possibilities as to the cause of the in-flight break-up.

He said: "It could be lithium batteries with one of the passengers, it could be an explosion in the fuel compartment - all the scenarios are on the table, I cannot exclude anything."

The flight data recorders were recovered on the day of the accident and information was successfully recovered, he added.

It was found that the plane was tr avelling at around 320mph, with the autopilot engaged.

While most of the plane has been found, some parts of the wreckage are still missing.

Mr el-Muqadem said the experts were still studying the cockpit voice recorders but confirmed that "a noise was heard in the last second of the CVR recording". Further analysis will now be carried out to identify the nature of this noise

And in apparent dig at countries like the UK and the US, which Egyptian authorities say have refused to share intelligence, Mr el-Muqadem asked for any information to be shared openly.

He said: "The (investigatory) committee noted media reports and analysis - some of which claimed to be based on official intelligence - which favours a certain scenario for the cause of the accident. The committee was not provided with any information or evidence in this regard.

"The committee urges the sources of such reports to provide it with all information that could help us to undertake our mission."

Meanwhile, tour operators and airlines continue to work with British and Egyptian authorities to bring thousands of holidaymakers back to the UK who have been left stranded in the Sharm el-Sheikh resort.

Around 1,500 tourists returned yesterday, while a similar number are expected on nine flights today.

But Government officials warned it is likely the increased safety measures mean many will have to stay in the country for a while longer.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "With a limited number of flights able to leave Sharm el-Sheikh each day for the UK, it is likely that tour operators or airlines will advise some people to extend their stay at their resort.

"We understand that tour operators and airlines are working to ensure that where people need to extend their stay at their resort necessary costs will be covered.

"It is important that people stay at their resort until they have confirmation from their airline or tour operator that they are on a flight back to the UK and that they follow their airline's advice on the appropriate arrival time at the airport."

Passenger safety remains the "top priority", he added.

Operations at the Red Sea city's airport have been hampered by the large volume of luggage left behind as British passengers were barred from taking hold baggage on flights, Mr el-Muqadem added.

A large number of scheduled flights have been cancelled. Of 29 services scheduled yesterday, 21 were cancelled by the Egyptian authorities and some planes were forced to divert mid-flight. The number of flights to the UK is being restricted.

A Thomas Cook flight left Sharm el-Sheikh bound for London's Gatwick Airport earlier today, while EasyJet, Monarch, British Airways and Thomson are also due to fly passengers to Manchester, Gatwick, Bristol and Luton.

Evidence is mounting to suggest the Russian plane was brought down by a bomb. French television channel France 2 reported that the black boxes from the plane "distinctly show the sound of an explosion during the flight".

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said information obtained by UK officials indicated there was a "high probability" that the aircraft was brought down by an explosive device, though he said he was still waiting for final confirmation.

There have been reports that security agencies received intelligence based on intercepted communications between Sinai militants which pointed towards a bomb on the plane.

They apparently suspect an explosive device could have been placed inside or on top of luggage by someone with access to the hold just before take-off.

Along with two flights on Saturday, EasyJet also said it planned to run two flights on Sunday to repatriate British tourists.

The airline was also able to bring holidaymakers back to the UK on Friday, meaning it will have flown more than 800 people home. But the company said it still had more than 3,000 passengers in the resort waiting to fly.

Two airlines are on standby in Cyprus ready to collect passengers, EasyJet added.

Monarch said it plans to operate two flights from Sharm el- Sheikh tomorrow, one to London's Gatwick Airport and the other to Birmingham, the airline said.

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