Russia mourned the victims of its biggest ever air disaster after a passenger jet full of Russian tourists crashed in Egypt’s Sinai, killing all 224 people on board.
Flags were at half mast on the parliament building on Sunday, in the Kremlin, and on other official buildings in honour of the victims, most of whom were from Russia’s second-largest city of Saint Petersburg.
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.
Russia’s state-owned rolling news channel Rossiya 24 periodically interrupted coverage with moments of silence and flashed photos of smiling crash victims apparently taken on their vacations and posted on social networks.
Some people had been on their first foreign holiday, some had never flown before, and one couple was on their honeymoon, the channel said.
The plane was flying to St Petersburg carrying mainly Russian tourists returning from holidays in the popular Red Sea resort.
Many entertainment venues in Moscow cancelled their programmes and media organisations turned their social network icons monochrome as a mark of respect.
President Vladimir Putin, whose office announced a day of national mourning, was however absent from the screens, and some Russians criticised him for failing to speak to the nation about the tragedy.
International investigators on Sunday began probing why the plane crashed as rescue workers widened their search for missing victims.
France’s BEA accident investigation agency is involved because the Airbus A321-200 jet was designed in France.
A BEA official said the team, including two BEA investigators and six technical advisers from Airbus, was arriving Sunday.
The BEA said the team would be joined by two investigators from its German counterpart BFU, because the plane was manufactured in Germany, and four investigators from its Russian counterpart MAK, because the plane was operated by a Russian company.
An army officer involved in the efforts said search crews had recovered 163 bodies so far, including the body of a girl found 8km from the bulk of the wreckage from Saturday’s crash.
Russian investigators searched the offices of Kogalymavia airline and the country’s transportation watchdog said it will continue checking it until November 30, but the charter carrier was still operating services on Sunday.
Kogalymavia’s representatives on Saturday evening said the pilot flying the plane was very experienced, while authorities at the last fuel stop said there had not been any red flags.
“The plane did not undergo a technical check in Samara [in southeastern Russia], but the crew went through a health check and was found fit to fly,” said a regional transport prosecutor’s office representative, Maya Ivanova.
“There was a probe of the plane’s fuel and the quality of fuel at that time it met all of the requirements,” she said in televised remarks.
Four Ukrainians were also among the victims, said Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.