A US infrared satellite has reportedly detected a heat flash at the time a Russian passenger jet went down in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, a US official has said, as the investigation into the deadly plane crash continues.
The official told NBC News on Tuesday that the US intelligence community believes that it could have been some kind of explosion on the plane itself, either a fuel tank or a bomb.
The same satellite imagery ruled out a surface-to-air missile attack, the news channel reported.
“The speculation that this plane was brought down by a missile is off the table,” the official told NBC News.
The jet crashed on Saturday, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.
Investigators are examining all possible causes as part of an Egyptian-led probe into the disaster that also involves experts from Russia, Airbus, and Ireland, where the aircraft was registered.
Analysts have dismissed claims that the jet was shot down by a group affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) if it was flying at a cruising height of 9,000 metres, but did not rule out that a bomb might have been planted on board.
A second US defence official also confirmed that the US surveillance satellite detected a “flash or explosion” in the air over the peninsula at the time of the crash, NBC News reported.
According to the official, “the plane disintegrated at a very high altitude”, when, as the infrared satellite indicates, “there was an explosion of some kind”.
The reports come as Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi dismissed claims that a branch of ISIL downed Kogalymavia airline’s Flight 9268.
“When there is propaganda that it crashed because of ISIS, this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt,” Sisi told BBC News, using an alternative acronym for ISIL.
“Believe me, the situation in Sinai – especially in this limited area – is under our full control,” he said.
Analysis of the “black boxes”, which could solve the mystery of what brought down the plane, is expected to begin on Tuesday according to Egyptian officials.
Russia’s government commission overseeing the crash probe is also due to meet.
Moscow also dismissed the claim by Egypt’s ISIL branch that it brought down the plane, which was bound for Saint Petersburg from Sharm el-Sheikh.
A top US intelligence official said on Monday that it was “unlikely” ISIL was involved in the crash.
‘No technical fault’
On Monday, Kogalymavia, which operates flights under the name Metrojet, said the crash of the plane was due to “external” factors.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, senior Kogalymavia executive Alexander Smirnov said that “no technical failures” could account for why the Airbus 321 would have broken up in mid-air.
“The only explanation is some kind of external action,” he said without elaborating, adding that the plane was in “excellent technical condition”.
Smirnov said the company had ruled out a technical fault or human error and that the plane had sustained “significant damage to its construction that did not allow it to continue the flight”.
“The crew totally lost control and for that reason there was not one attempt to get in contact and report on the accident situation on board,” Smirnov said. The plane was “flying out of control – that is, it wasn’t flying, it was falling”.
Alexander Neradko, head of Russia’s aviation authority, criticised the airline’s comments as “premature and not based on any real facts”.