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Crash cause ‘technical’, not terror
New year holidayers drown in sea

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Jan. 3 (Reuters): An Egyptian Boeing 737 carrying 148 people, most of them French tourists on New year family holidays, crashed into the Red Sea off the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh today, killing all on board.

The plane, operated by the Egyptian charter company Flash Airlines, disappeared from radar screens minutes after take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport at 0244 GMT and crashed into deep water a few miles to the southeast.

Egypt’s civil aviation minister said the causes of the crash were “entirely technical”, and a senior aide said there was no sign of terrorism.

Tony Blair, his wife Cherie, her mother Gale, the Blairs’ four children Euan, Nicky, Kathryn and Leo, and Euan’s girlfriend Katie Sanders are all understood to have been staying in the resort over the festive period.

France’s deputy transport minister said the aircraft had problems taking off and crashed while trying to turn back to the airport. “There was a problem at take-off,” Dominique Bussereau told reporters at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The French government said there were 133 French and two other passengers aboard, and a French medical official said many of them were children on family holidays. Officials said the plane had a crew of 13 Egyptians and Moroccans.

Egyptian military aircraft and ships, helped by small boats from nearby diving centres, launched a rescue operation at first light, but eyewitnesses said they found pieces of human bodies but no complete corpses and no survivors. “There’s 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,” a rescue worker said.

“The chances of finding complete bodies look slim because of the force with which the plane hit the surface of the water,” said Yasser Imam, a spokesman for the local authorities.

The plane was heading for Cairo to refuel, change crew and take on more passengers before flying on to Paris. The pilots did not report a problem, official sources said.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and transport minister Gilles de Robien rushed to Charles de Gaulle Airport, where distraught friends and relatives who had gone to meet the flight were being told of the crash.

The head of the airport’s medical services, Michel Clerel, asked if there were children on board the flight, said: “Yes, many. They were spending their holidays with their families.”

Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher said Egyptian authorities would run the investigation. French experts would be welcome, but “what matters is to find out the truth, and Egypt has enough capacity and experience to find out the truth...”

The crash coincided with intense US concern about possible terror attacks involving civilian airliners, which has led to the cancellation of seven US-bound flights in just over a week.

The plane crashed in the Strait of Tiran, between the Sinai peninsula and Saudi Arabia, where the water is hundreds of metres deep — too deep for divers to reach the flight recording devices, diving school managers said.

Civil aviation minister Ahmed Mohamed Shafiq Zaki said evidence from witnesses and equipment on the ground suggested the crew lost control shortly after take-off because of a technical fault and crashed while trying to bring the plane back on course at low altitude.

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