U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said that a bomb may have brought down the Russian plane that crashed in Egypt on Saturday.
The statement from the usually cautious British government is the strongest indicator yet that terrorists may have been responsible for the crash of the Metrojet Airbus Group SE A321, which was carrying 224 people. So far there haven’t been any findings released by investigators suggesting whether a bomb, some other explosion or a structural failure caused the plane to break into pieces and fall to the ground.
“While the investigation is still ongoing we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed,” Cameron’s office said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday. “But as more information has come to light we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.”
Britain isn’t formally a party to the probe and the government statement didn’t say whether its actions are based on findings from the crash investigators or an interpretation of information already in the public domain. Egypt said Wednesday that the Airbus’s cockpit-voice recorder was damaged in the crash and that work is required to access its final few minutes. The flight-data device has been decoded and work will begin on that information shortly.
Earlier, Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said he wouldn’t rule out terrorism. He pointed to the Khorasan group, made up of al-Qaeda members operating in Syria, which he said has been developing non-metallic improvised explosive devices that can avoid screening technology.
“One of my concerns about the Russian plane, given the Russian activity now in Syria, is that it possibly could have been one of these non-metallic IEDs,” McCaul said in an interview. “You can’t rule that out at this point in time.”
Revised data covering the Metrojet’s final moments show that it slowed suddenly and then plunged to the Earth at 300 miles (483 kilometers) per hour, according to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24. The plane fell from 31,000 feet to 26,000 feet in the final 26 seconds, according to the final transmissions from its radio transponder.
The new data is consistent with reports from Egyptian and Russian officials, who said that the plane came apart as it was flying at cruising altitude from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg. It also indicates that the plane’s direction of travel was wobbling from side to side, which would occur if it was coming apart. In the seconds after that, readings from the plane generated by air pressure begin to become suspicious, according to the company.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. had no information to share on the ongoing investigation, which the Egyptians are leading with Russian involvement. “I don’t want to say anything that would interfere with or prejudice that ongoing investigation,” he told reporters.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova declined to comment on the U.K. government statement.
Flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to the U.K. are to be delayed to allow time for aviation security experts to arrive in Egypt and assess the arrangements at the airport. Cameron is to chair a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee later on Wednesday. There were no more flights due to travel to Sharm from the U.K. on Wednesday, the government said.
– Bloomberg [Robert Hutton]