At least three major airlines are reviewing their flight routes over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after a Russian commercial plane crashed there, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.
The Airbus A321-200, operated by the Moscow-based Metrojet airline, crashed in a remote mountainous part of the Sinai Peninsula 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday morning.
The plane was flying to St Petersburg carrying mainly Russian tourists returning from holidays in the popular Red Sea resort.
Despite earlier reports stating that the plane’s pilot had contacted aviation authorities prior to the crash, Egypt’s minister for civil aviation said late on Saturday that the pilot did not lodge a distress call.
Mohamed Hossam Kemal told a news conference that communications between the plane and air traffic control before the crash had been normal and that nothing irregular had occurred before the accident.
“The plane did not request a change of route,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said while the cause of the crash is not known, three major airlines – Emirates, Lufthansa and Air France – announced they would stop flying over the area for safety reasons.
Their aircraft will take alternate routes to reach destinations in the region, which has been the subject of ongoing violence between Egyptian security forces and a number of armed groups.
“It is perhaps a sign of how uncertain the causes of this crash are that two major European airlines have decided they don’t want to fly over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula until the exact causes of this crash have been ascertained,” Challands said.
“Of course, the Sinai Peninsula is a deeply troubled region and has been the focus of a years-long armed conflict that is still ongoing, and these airlines want to be sure that conflict did not have any part to play in the downing of this plane.”
Russian officials and Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, however, say they do not believe the plane was targeted.
“Up until this point, there are no indications that anything out of the ordinary happened on this aircraft,” Ismail said.
“All we can say is that it happened due to technical difficulties and the team of experts are the ones who will be able to prove or deny this.”
Both British Airways and Easyjet have said they have no plans to alter their flight routes to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
In a statement, Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said the wreckage of the Russian passenger jet was found in the Hassana area, south of the city of el-Arish.
The Airbus 321 was at an altitude of 9,450m when it vanished from radar screens.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a day of national mourning for Sunday.
Among the passengers were 214 Russians and three Ukrainians, plus seven crew members, the Egyptian government said. At least 24 children were on board, the Association of Travel Operators of Russia said.
The flight recorder which contains the flight data was also found at the scene.
Challands said Russia has dispatched a large investigative team to Cairo to look into the causes of the crash. The team includes the heads of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Transport, and Russian Air Transport Agency.
Separately, Egypt’s top prosecutor ordered an investigation into the cause of the crash.
Nabil Sadek, the prosecutor general, ordered the formation of a team of prosecutors tasked with going to the site of the crash and investigating the debris.