4.1.4. By The Associated Press SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – A charter jet full of French tourists returning home after vacations in Egypt crashed into the Red Sea early yesterday, killing all 148 people aboard. The jet came down after an apparent mechanical failure, officials said. Rescue workers spent the day circling the waters in small boats looking for survivors, but found only bodies, body parts and debris, including suitcases, shoes, life preservers and small bits of plane wreckage. Swimsuit-clad tourists watched the search efforts from the beach.
Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafeeq, a pilot and former commander of the Egyptian air force, said the dead included 133 French, one Japanese, one Moroccan and 13 Egyptian crew members. Speaking to reporters at the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh, Shafeeq said everything was fine with the plane when it was checked before takeoff. “The first indications suggest a technical fault,” he said, noting that the last communication with the plane was at 5,300 feet. “There is a possibility something might have gone wrong with the transmission equipment that the pilot couldn’t control,” he suggested, but said there was still no official explanation. Sharon sends condolences Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon telephoned his Egyptian counterpart, President Hosni Mubarak, to express his condolences over the crash; while Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom made a similar call to his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin. President Moshe Katsav sent a letter of sympathy to the Egyptian president, and to French President Jacques Chirac, expressing his deep shock at the plane crash, especially at the fact that a large number of children and entire families were lost. In France and Egypt, distraught family members gathered at airports and travel offices, desperate for news of loved ones who had been aboard Flash Airlines Flight FSH604, bound for Paris after a stopover in Cairo. The crash occurred amid a week of heightened concerns about terrorist threats from the air that have led to increased security and canceled flights around the world. But Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said the crash “is not related to any terrorist act.” At the Flash Airlines office in Cairo, one man who was checking on his daughter, a 30-year-old stewardess on the flight, walked out in despair 15 minutes later. “Samia, Samia,” he wailed. Next to him, his wife screamed, “My daughter, my daughter!” Family members hoping to pick up passengers at Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris early yesterday were discreetly pulled aside by authorities and taken by shuttle bus to a nearby hotel. A list of passengers provided by the airline showed whole groups of people with the same family names. French Deputy Transportation Minister Dominique Bussereau told reporters that the Flash Airlines pilot had detected problems shortly after takeoff and had tried in vain to turn back. French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said French investigators would help the Egyptians “in order to shed light as quickly as possible on this catastrophe that has plunged our country into mourning.” An investigator from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board was also flying in to the scene of the crash at Egypt’s request, and engineers from the national carrier, EgyptAir, were also rushed in to help. Chirac and Mubarak expressed condolences to each other in a phone call. Egypt said it would provide a private jet to fly home the bodies of the French victims. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now vacationing in Sharm el-Sheikh, issued a statement of condolence. Sharm el-Sheikh is a popular Red Sea tourist resort about 500 kilometers (300 miles) southeast of Cairo on the Sinai peninsula. It has also been the site of several meetings on peace in the Middle East, including one in June in which U.S. President George W. Bush met with regional leaders about the road map toward creating a Palestinian state. Saturday’s crash was Egypt’s biggest aviation disaster since 1999, when an EgyptAir plane crashed shortly after leaving New York en route to Cairo, killing all 217 people aboard. In 2002, an EgyptAir plane with 62 people on board slammed into a hillside near the Tunis airport, killing 14 people and injuring dozens more.