PARIS: Black box data from the Russian plane that crashed in Egypt last week indicates it was hit by a bomb, sources said, before an Egypt-led probe into the disaster was set to release its first findings Saturday.
Both the flight data and voice recorders failed 24 minutes after the plane took off from the Sharm el-Sheikh resort en route to Saint Petersburg, when it plummeted from the sky into the Sinai Peninsula killing all 224 people on board.
Cairo and Moscow initially dismissed a claim Islamic State (IS) jihadists downed the plane, but growing evidence it was attacked has prompted several countries to warn against travel to Sharm el-Sheikh.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin also ordered flights to the Red Sea resort halted, in a fresh blow to Egypt’s already struggling tourism industry.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told news agencies the measure did not mean Russia believed the crash—the worst aviation disaster in Russia’s history—was due to an attack, and the investigation continued.
The head of Russia’s emergencies ministry said Russian experts had taken samples from the crashed jet and were testing it for any traces of explosives.
But a source close to the investigation told Agence France-Presse the black box data “strongly favors” the theory a bomb on board brought down the plane.
Another person close to the case in Paris said the plane had suffered “a violent, sudden” end, saying: “Everything was normal during the flight, absolutely normal, and suddenly there was nothing.”
Egyptian Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal and the head of the Egypt-led investigation into the disaster are due to hold their first news conference at 1500 GMT on Saturday, although the government warned it could be delayed.
‘Security was horrendous’
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s office said he called Putin and they agreed to bolster coordination to “strengthen security measures for Russian planes.”
With international concerns mounting, European airlines prepared to bring home thousands of tourists from the Red Sea resort, which has been a jewel in Egypt’s tourism crown.
Denmark on Friday became the latest European country to warn against traveling to Sharm el-Sheikh, following France, Belgium and Britain, while several airlines have banned check-in luggage as a precaution.
The US said it would also step up security screenings of US-bound flights from some Middle East airports as a precaution.
There were angry scenes in Sharm el-Sheikh, as thousands of anxious Britons, who had also hoped to fly home, were sent back to their hotels after Egypt blocked several other repatriation flights.
“I think a lot of people will question whether they ever want to go to Egypt again,” Emma Turner, a 34-year-old from southeast England, said after arriving back in London.
Eight flights carrying some 1,400 travelers returned to Britain on Friday after restrictions were lifted, but tourists were only allowed to bring carry-on bags.
Kamal said only eight of 29 flights could take off because the airport could not cope with all the luggage left behind.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a representative of national carrier Aeroflot saying a plane would be sent Friday to pick up stranded Russians.