France seeks inquiry into plane crash

France has asked prosecutors to open a preliminary inquiry for manslaughter following the crash of a plane in the Red Sea that killed 148 people, most of them French.

    The plane belonged to Flash Air, a private Egyptian company

    The Justice Ministry said on Saturday the request "does not prejudge in any way the causes of the catastrophe", but simply provides a legal framework for French and Egyptian investigators as they conduct their probe.

    The Egyptian Boeing 737 airliner crashed into the Red Sea on Saturday morning all 148 people on board.

    Flight 8604 disappeared from radar screens shortly after take-off at 04:44 (02:44 GMT) from the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Shaikh.

    Children aboard

    "All people who were aboard the plane are dead," Usama al-Sayid, a senior official with Flash Air, the private company which owned the plane, told reporters on Saturday.

    "There were 135 French tourists aboard as well as 13 Egyptians, six of them crew members," said another Flash Air official asking not to be identified. 

    The plane had arrived from Venice with Italian tourists aboard and took off again an hour later.

    It was due to make a short stopover in Cairo to

     refuel before continuing to Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris."

    Many children were aboard the plane, said French airport official

    Michel Clerel, who is in charge of counselling for relatives of the victims, said: "Yes many. They were spending their holidays with their families." 

    A family of seven was aboard the plane, Clerel told reporters

    'Entirely technical'

    Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Ahmad Muhamad Shafiq Zaki said the cause of the crash was "entirely technical". 

    "Hopefully we will arrive at the final reason and I confirm
    once again that the reason is entirely technical," Zaki said in an interview broadcast on state television.

    The Egyptian civil aviation ministry said earlier that "technical failure" appears to have caused the crash and no explosions were heard.

    Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Mahir categorically ruled out terrorism. "The incident is absolutely not the result of a terrorist act, but is linked to a technical failure of the plane," Mahir told journalists.

    Little wreckage

    A tourist watches the search
    operation in the Red Sea

    Pieces of wreckage from the plane were found in the sea about 15 kms south of the popular beach destination.

    The military sent helicopters and small patrol boats into an area full of floating suitcases and other debris but no survivors had been found.

    "There are no survivors at all," a member of the rescue team told reporters by telephone from a boat out at sea. "There is lots of personal stuff, small bags and toys. We have collected very small pieces of the plane but the body of the plane has sunk," he said.

    Many relatives of the deceased headed to Flash Air offices in Cairo to get more details about the victims, Aljazeera's correspondent in Cairo reported. 


    "A special plane is due to transfer the relatives to Sharm al-Sheikh," the correspondent added.

    Chirac's 'shock'

    French President Jacques Chirac telephoned his Egyptian
    counterpart Hosni Mubarak to obtain details of the crash and
    expressed his "deepest shock" at the tragedy, his office said.

    In France, Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport officials were comforting a group of people who had been awaiting friends and relatives from the plane.

    Ambulances were on hand as the waiting group was ushered onto a bus, and taken to an airport hotel to be given more information on the disaster.

    Journalists were kept at a distance by airport staff.


    Chronology of Egyptian airline crashes:

    • 23 November, 1985: An EgyptAir Boeing 737-200 was hijacked to  Valletta, Malta, and, after several hours of negotiations, Egyptian troops stormed the aircraft. The hijackers threw
      several hand grenades. Two of the six crew members and 58 of the 90 passengers were killed.

    •  31 October , 1999 - An EgyptAir Boeing 767 went down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Massachusetts on a flight from New York to Cairo with 212 people on board. 

    • 7 May, 2002 - An EgyptAir Boeing 737-500 with 62 passengers and crew on board crashed as it was attempting to
      land at Tunis airport, killing at least 20 people. 

    The last major crash involving an Egyptian plane took place in May 2002, when a Boeing 767 of the state airline EgyptAir crashed near Tunis airport, killing 15 people.

    In October 1999, an EgyptAir Boeing 767 dived into the sea off Nantucket, Massachusetts, in the USA killing all 217 people on board.

    Sharm al-Shaikh

    The Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Shaikh is a popular destination for tourists and divers from around the world and Egypt's favourite place to showcase its role as Middle East peace-broker. 

    Tucked between the mountains of the Sinai desert and the clear waters of the Red Sea, the glitzy strip of golden beaches, hotels and casinos, dive resorts and golf courses attracts many of the two million visitors to Egypt each year. 

    Sharm al-Shaikh, lavishly advertised as the heart of the Red Sea riviera at the southern tip of the Sinai where the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba meet, is also important for Egypt as a symbol of sovereignty regained in the Sinai. 

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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