Egypt confirmed on Saturday morning that a Russian passenger plane carrying 224 passengers and crew had crashed in the Sinai desert. Several Egyptian military and security officials said there were no survivors.
The flight was carrying 214 Russian passengers and three Ukrainians, the Egyptian cabinet said in a statement. Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared Nov. 1 a national day of mourning.
Egyptian air traffic control said it lost contact with the civilian airliner shortly after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to Russia. Egyptian authorities said the wreckage was found in an area where Egyptian forces are fighting an Islamic militant insurgency.
The Islamic State group claimed that its local affiliate in the Sinai had succeeded in downing the aircraft, according to supporters on Twitter and the Aamaq website, which acts as a semi official news agency for Islamic State. According to the report, the organization said it did so in revenge for Russian airstrikes in Syria.
"Russians and everyone who is with you in the alliance: Know that you have no safety on Muslim soil or in Muslim airspace," read a statement attributed to ISIS. "The daily murdering of dozens in Syria by your airstrikes will bring disaster on you. Just as you kill, so you will be killed, God willing."
However, an Egyptian aviation official said the pilot had reported technical difficulties before losing contact with air traffic controllers. Ayman al-Muqadem, a member of the Aviation Incidents Committee, said the pilot had reported his intention to attempt to land at the nearest airport.
Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Mohamed Hossam Kemal said it was "too soon to determine the cause" of the crash. Meanwhile, security sources in North Sinai said an initial examination of the crash site showed the crash was due to a technical fault.
While it is somewhat unclear what weaponry Sinai's ISIS militants have in their arsenal, fellow terrorist organization Ansar Beit al Maqdis, also located in the Sinai, is armed with SA18 missiles with a range of just over 5 kilometers. The Russian aircraft was flying at an altitude of some 11 kilometers when it dove quickly for the earth.
According to radar, the plane had been travelling at around 400 knots an hour before plummeting to 93 knots an hour in one second. Contact was then lost.
The plane was at an altitude of 31,000 feet when it vanished from radar screens 23 minutes after takeoff, the civil aviation ministry said. The aircraft was an Airbus A-321 operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia, also known as Metrojet.
Russia's top Investigative Committee has launched a case against the airline under an article regulating "violation of rules of flights and preparations for them" Russian news agencies said, citing the committee's spokesman.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail convened an emergency meeting and decided to send 45 ambulances to the crash site from the city of Ismaïlia.
German carrier Lufthansa and Air France-KLM decided to avoid the area for safety reasons, spokeswomen for the carriers said on Saturday.
"We took the decision to avoid the area because the situation and the reasons for the crash were not clear," a Lufthansa spokeswoman said. "We will continue to avoid the area until it is clear what caused the crash."
Russia's RIA news agency quoted a source in the Russian aviation authority as saying that seventeen children were among the passengers.
Russian state transport regulator Rostransnadzor found violations when it last conducted a routine flight safety inspection of Kogalymavia, whose jet crashed in Egypt, Interfax news agency quoted the watchdog as saying.
But after the inspection, which took place in March 2014, the airline remedied the breaches within the deadlines it had been set, Interfax reported.
Egypt's air accident chief said following the initial report of a missing passenger plane that the plane had safely left Egyptian airspace and made contact with Turkish air traffic control. However, a Russian aviation source said radar contact with the aircraft had been lost over Cyprus. Both preliminary reports led to confusion as to whether the plane had crashed or had merely been temporarily missing.