Metrojet A321 over Sinai on Oct 31st 2015, broke up in climb over Sinai, preliminary report states no unlawful interference
Last Update: November 16, 2016 / 16:32:45 GMT/Zulu time
The search and recovery
Egyptian sources were reporting the aircraft was believed crashed, a search for the aircraft in Sinai was ongoing.
Egypt's Prime Minister confirmed the aircraft has crashed. In the evening of Oct 31st 2015 the Prime Minister reported that 129 bodies have been recovered and taken to Cairo.
Egyptian Authorities reported first parts of the wreckage have been located. There is no evidence of hostile/missile activity around the flight path of the aircraft. 50 ambulances have been dispatched to the crash site, any injured would be flown to Cairo with helicopters. The flight data recorder as well as the cockpit voice recorder have been recovered, both recorders are in good condition. By morning of Nov 1st 2015 175 bodies have been recovered. An area in excess of 16 square kilometers/6 square miles needs to be searched for wreckage and bodies.
Reuters quotes an Egyptian Offical involved in the ongoing rescue operation, that the aircraft has broken up in two major parts, a small part being the tail plane caught fire, the other larger part impacted a rock. Bodies still belted to their seats are around the crash site, around 100 bodies have so far been recovered, the rest still inside the wreckage, however, there are also voices heard from inside a part of the wreckage. 50 ambulances have been dispatched to the crash site.
Russia's Rosaviatsia (Civil Aviation Authority) reported the A321 of Kogalym Avia carried 217 passengers and 7 crew.
A ground observer reported a large number of helicopters are departing their Cairo airbase in the direction of Sinai.
The Russian Embassy to Egypt reported, that no survivors have been found at the crash site, all occupants of the aircraft perished.
On Nov 2nd 2015 a first flight brought 144 bodies to St. Petersburg, where the bodies are going to be identified.
On Nov 2nd 2015 Russia's Ministry of Emergency Situations reported that the search over 20 square kilometers has been completed, the search for bodies has now been expanded to 30 square kilometers. A second flight to return bodies to St. Petersburg has been scheduled for Nov 3rd 2015.
The sequence of events
Airbus confirmed the loss of EI-ETJ, that disappeared from radar while flying overhead Sinai, with 217 passengers and 7 crew. The aircraft, built in 1997 and powered by IAE V2533 engines, had accumulated approximately 55,772 flight hours in 21,175 flight cycles.
The airline reported the captain of the flight was experienced with more than 12,000 hours total and 3,800 hours on type.
Sources in Sharm el Sheik reported the captain of the flight reported technical problems and requested to return to Sharm el Sheikh.
Egyptian media report with reference to an Egyptian government meeting that the crew reported engine (V2533) trouble, subsequently lost control of the aircraft and communication ceased.
Egypt's Civil Aviation Authority reported that there was no Mayday Call from the crew, communication with the aircraft was normal until the aircraft disappeared from radar.
Russia's Transport Ministry called a video surfacing in the Internet claiming to show the shoot down of 7K-9263 by Islamic State as not credible and fabricated.
Egypt's Accident Investigation Commission (EAAIA) opened an investigation. The chairman stated, that preliminary facts point towards a technical failure.
The French BEA representing the state of manufacture have dispatched two investigators and 6 advisors to Egypt to join the investigation led by Egypt. Germany's BFU representing the state of construction joined the investigation with two investigators as well as did Russia's MAK representing the state of operator with four investigators.
On Nov 2nd 2015 The Irish AAIU representing the state of registration of the aircraft dispatched two investigators and an advisor to Egypt to join the investigation, too.
Late Nov 4th 2015 Egypt's Civil Aviation Authority, Accident Investigation Authority, reported that the flight data recorder has been successfully read out, the data are now being analysed by the accident investigation team. The cockpit voice recorder was found damaged and a lot of work is required to extract the data from it. The examination of the wreckage on site is continuing. Further information will be released in due course.
On Nov 5th 2015 Russia's Ministry of Transport (Rostransnadzor) reported that the last C-Check of the crashed aircraft had been performed on March 18th 2014 in Turkey by the maintenance organisation "Turkish HABOM" certified by EASA. The last check for airworthiness was conducted by Ireland's Civil Aviation Authority (IAA) in the first quarter of 2015 and resulted in the extension of the airworthines certificate of the aircraft. An unscheduled inspection of the airline was conducted by the Russia's Ministry of Transport to check whether the Ministry's requirements of maintenance have been complied with and to establish a risk assessment. As result of this inspection the airline was instructed to, within specified time, implement a number of extra checks and corrective measures "in the light of the sudden destruction of the construction of the Airbus A321 in cruise flight at high altitude". The Ministry stated the airline "leases aircraft from Ireland, registered in its territory and must undergo maintenance in organisations approved by the European Security Agency EASA. In accordance with the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation the Aviation Authority of the Republic of Ireland is responsible to carry out the verification of airworthiness of aircraft. Ireland inspectors are required to periodically verify the technical condition of the aircraft."
On Nov 7th 2015 Egypt's Air Accident Investigation Commission (EAAIC) reported in a press conference, that:
- the wreckage is distributed over a length of more than 13km consistent with inflight breakup, several parts of the wreckage are missing.
- Initial observation of the wreckage does not yet allow to determine the cause of the inflight break up.
- The FDR was successfully downloaded, preliminary review of the data suggests the recording stopped 23 minutes 14 seconds after becoming airborne, last recorded altitude was 30,888 feet MSL, last recorded airspeed was 281 knots IAS, autopilot 1 was engaged, the aircraft was still climbing.
- The CVR was successfully downloaded and a first listening was done, the transcript is currently being compiled, a noise was heard in the last second of the recording. Spectral analysis is trying to determine the nature of this noise.
- Parties reporting facts outside of the investgation should provide their evidence to the accident investigation commission (Editorial note: this appears to be a reference to British and US Intelligence suggesting the aircraft was brought down by a bomb).
On Nov 8th 2015 the EAAIC re-iterated, that only the information provided during the press conference on Nov 7th 2015 is official. With reference to new media reports (editorial note: claiming based on Egyptian investigators that the sound at the end of the CVR is 90% consistent with a bomb explosion) the chairman of EAAIC stressed, that this information comes from unnamed sources not associated with the EAAIC despite claims those sources were Egyptian investigators.
On Nov 17th 2015 the website of Russia's President issued a summary of a meeting conducted on Nov 16th 2015, during which the director of Russia's Federal Security Service stated: "Mr President, we have studied the passengers’ personal belongings and luggage and fragments of the plane that crashed in Egypt on October 31. An expert examination of all these objects has found traces of foreign-made explosives. According to our experts, a self-made explosive device equivalent up to 1 kg of TNT was set off on board, which explains why the fragments of the aircraft were scattered over a large area. We can say with confidence that this was a terrorist act." The website continues quoting the President: "We will act in compliance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which envisages the right of a state to self-defence. Whoever tries to help the perpetrators ought to know that they would bear full responsibility for any attempts to harbour them. I would like all our special services to focus on this work."
On Dec 14th 2015 Egypt's Civil Aviation Authority reported, that the preliminary report has been finished and has been sent to ICAO as well as all participants in the investigation. The investigation has extended 16km from the main wreckage site. The forensic medicine group is awaiting DNA probes from Russia to identify victims. Extensive photos using an advanced 3D camera have been taken, metallurgy examination of the wreckage has been initiated. The flight data recorder has been read out and contains all flights of the 5 days prior to the crash, in addition a total of 38 computers on board were removed from the wreckage and taken for detailed examination. The maintenance group is checking all maintenance records going back to 1997. The press release by Egypt's CAA concludes: "up to date the committee did not receive any information indicating unlawful interference, consequently the committee continues its work regarding the technical investigation."
On Aug 30th 2016 Egypt's CAA announced that a delegation from Russia has arrived in Egypt to meet with their counterparts of Egypt and Germany in order to prepare a meeting at a secure location at Cairo Airport, where all wreckage of the aircraft have been taken to. The meeting is to determine the initial point of where the fuselage started to disintegrate. Representatives from Ireland, France and the United States (representing the the countries of design, manufacture of aircraft and engines) plus an expert from Airbus are going to attend that meeting, too.
On Sep 8th 2016 Egypt's CAA announced, that in the meeting with Russian and other counterparts a specific area was identified, where most likely the disintegration of the fuselage began. The related parts of the wreckage have been sent to special laboratories to further analyse the causes of the disintegration.
On Oct 31st 2016 Russia's MAK stated, that a specific area of the aircraft was identified during a meeting in Cairo in Sep 2016, where the disintegration of the airframe began. Evidence suggests that the airframe was exposed to high energy elements from the inside to the outside and explosive decompression. The various fragments of the aircraft are undergoing further examination and analysis.
On Nov 16th 2016 Egypt's CAA released an interim statement listing all activities by the accident investigation commission so far, however providing little insight into the sequence of events so far. Noteworthy details are the examination of the cabin pressure controllers and the spectrum analysis of the cockpit voice recorder's last second recordings. The statement also stated: "In the scope of continuous mutual work among the States participating in the investigation, and to reach all the available information about the accident, the committee received a report issued by Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. After studying the report, the committee decided to submit the report to the General Prosecutor, implementing the article 108 of the Civil Aviation law, as, it included some suspects of accident criminal act."
Lufthansa and Air France announced they are going to avoid overflying the Sinai until the cause of the crash has been determined. There have been warnings issued by the FAA to American Operators as well as by Germany to German airlines to operate above FL260 while flying over the Sinai.
According to flightplan the aircraft was tracking between waypoints TBA (Egypt: N29.362420 E34.475080) and PASOS (Cyprus FIR, N32.216667 E33.100000) when it disappeared. Eurocontrol's Air Flow Traffic Management (CFMU) issued a note to all operators along the route TBA-PASOS and vice versa shortly after the aircraft disappeared, that due to technical problems all flights will be tactically rerouted via MELDO (N32.033611 E31.077778) until further notice. The notice was removed a couple of minutes later. Airway UL550, connecting PASOS and TBA, remained in use throughout the day.
On Oct 31st 2015 around 19:00Z Eurocontrol's Air Flow Traffic Management (CFMU) issued following statement by NMOC Brussels: "Attention to Aircraft Operators: The point PASOS in LCCC (Cyprus) FIR is not available for flight planning. FPLs filed via this point will be rejected by IFPS. Please re-file via points: LAKTO or RASDA." LAKTO's position is N32.633333 E32.083333 on airway J863 to Port Said, RASDA's position is N33.100000 E30.950000 on airway A16 to BALTIM, both routes west of Sinai avoiding the Sinai. Following the release of the statement movements along airway UL550 ceased.
On Nov 1st 2015 CFMU issued following statement by NMOC Brussels: "Attention to Aircraft Operators: Egyptians authorities have asked to stop traffic from flying over point PASOS. Therefore point PASOS in LCCC (Cyprus) FIR is not available for flight planning. FPLs filed via this point will be rejected by IFPS. Please re-file via points: LAKTO or RASDA. Still waiting for a HECC (Cairo ) NOTAM. NMOC is monitoring the situation and will advice of any development NMOC Brussels." Following the release of this note the air space above the Sinai peninsula remained basically empty with lots of traffic being rerouted around the Sinai via Cairo.
On Nov 1st 2015 Rostransnadzor (Russia's Ministry of Transport) ordered Metrojet to suspend all A321 operations pending the investigation. Another decision may be taken on Monday, Nov 2nd, following a risk assessment. Fuel supplies in Samara were found in compliance with all regulations and requirements, Russian authorities reported the aircraft had last been refueled in Samara before its departure to Sharm el Sheikh, the result of a fuel analysis of Sharm el Sheikh is not yet known.
On Nov 2nd 2015 the restriction of PASOS waypoint has been withdrawn, airway UL550 and Sinai are open again.
On Nov 4th 2015 the office of the British Prime Minister reported that the office was following the progress of the investigation closely. According to a phone conversation of the British Prime Minister with the Egyptian Prime Minister it can not be ruled out that the aircraft was brought down by an explosive device. As result departures of British Aircraft from Sharm el Sheikh will be delayed for additional security checks.
On Nov 5th 2015 the British Foreign Minister stated, that based on intelligence from the UK and the USA there was a significant possibility the Metrojet was downed by a bomb on board of the aircraft, although there is no firm evidence to confirm this as cause of the crash. The UK is reacting to this possibility however, flights to Sharm el Sheikh by UK airlines are suspended and may resume on Nov 6th, in the meantime the government is working to ensure British travellers in Sharm el Sheikh can return home.
On Nov 5th 2015 Egypt's Aviation Minister countered the claims from the UK however stating that all Egypt Airports are in compliance with international standards in safety. There is no evidence or substance to the claims, that an explosion internal to the aircraft brought the aircraft down. Egypt is keen to maintain the integrity and accuracy of the investigation.
On Nov 6th 2015 Russia decided to suspend all flights between Russia and Egypt (not just Sharm el Sheikh).
On Nov 6th 2015 the United Kingdom performs a number of flights, both scheduled and ad hoc, to Sharm el Sheikh to take their citizens home. Passengers are permitted to bring their hand luggage, checked luggage is not being taken aboard such flights and will be transported separately.
The history of the airframe
The aircraft suffered a tailstrike in Cairo on Nov 16th 2001. It's then operator had been Middle East Airlines (MEA), its tail number then was F-OHMP. The aircraft was on an ILS approach to runway 05R when the aircraft began to oscillate around the glide path, above and below the glidepath, causing manual corrections by the crew, which resulted in a hard landing and tail strike at touch down and in substantial damage to the aircraft, that nonetheless taxied to the apron where the passengers disembarked normally.
The Aviation Herald is currently investigating the extent of damage and who did the repairs.
So far inquiries, with the aim to receive the final report of the tail strike in 2001 as well as clarify the extent of damage and who performed the repairs to Egypt's Civil Aviation Authority Accident Investigation, Airbus, Metrojet, Middle East Airlines have not been answered. In a press conference the chairman of Metrojet said however, that the repair in 2001/2002 was done by Airbus.
This article is published under license from Avherald.com. © of text by Avherald.com.
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