Power failure may have downed Egyptian plane

France's Transport Minister says a power failure was the most likely cause of the plane crash off the Egyptian coast that killed 148 people, mostly French tourists.

    Flash Airlines operated two Boeing 737 jetliners

    Gilles de Robien told Europe 1 radio that while noone could be absolutely certain, all the indications were that an accident caused the crash near Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday.

    "We can never be absolutely certain, but all the indications seem to point to the same theory. There was no explosion before the crash, noone has claimed responsibility for the attack," he said. "The arguments most commonly set out show that it was simply a loss of power."

    Earlier it emerged that the Egyptian charter airline whose Boeing 737 crashed into the Red Sea had been banned from flying over Swiss airspace since October 2002 due to safety concerns.

    "During an inspection we discovered that the airline was a danger to aviation security," said Celestine Perissinotto, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation.

    "If a company is forbidden (to fly over national airspace)... that means the problems are serious."

    She declined to give further details.

    A Paris-bound plane, operated by the private Egyptian charter company Flash Airlines, crashed just minutes after take-off from the Egyptian tourist resort Sharm al-Shaikh on
    Saturday, killing everybody on board. Most of the dead are French tourists.

    The Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation said it had informed Flash Airlines and the Egyptian aviation authorities about its concerns.

    "The reaction was insufficient... The company is still banned from Switzerland," Perissinotto said.

    'Entirely technical'

    The Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Ahmad Muhammad Shafiq Zaki said the cause of Saturday's crash was "entirely technical" and that technical problems might also account for the pilots' failure to tell the control tower they were in trouble.

    "If a company is forbidden (to fly over national airspace)...that means the problems are serious"

    Celestine Perissinotto,
    Spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation

    The French Transport Minister Gilles de Robien told French television investigators would check if the airline had met international aviation rules.

    The Swiss authorities also informed the Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft Programme - part of the European Joint Aviation Authorities - about its concerns.

    Perissinotto said fewer than 10 airlines were currently banned from Switzerland or earmarked for inspection.

    An exception to the ban on Flash Airlines was made when a Paris-bound plane made an emergency landing in Geneva due to bad weather conditions in Paris, Perissinotto said, confirming a report in the "SonntagsBlick" newspaper.

    Information about the emergency landing provided by the airline had been insufficient, Perissinotto added.

    Search goes on

    Rescue teams probing the crash faced a daunting challenge from strong currents and underwater canyons on Sunday.

    "We can't deny it's a difficult environment," Zaki told reporters.

    Experts are picking up the pieces
    for analysis

    He suspected the main body of the Boeing 737 plane lay on the seabed about 300 metres (1000 feet) underwater, although French officials sent a submarine robot they said could work well within those depths.

    In addition to the robot, France also sent a team of navy divers, a military aircraft to take part in the Egyptian-led search for the human and other remains of the Paris-bound plane.

    The challenge comes from both fast-moving currents picking up debris and bodies, as well as deep canyons which can plunge to 1400 metres (almost 5000 feet), according to diving experts in the resort at Sharm al-Shaikh.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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