A Russian passenger airplane carrying 224 people crashed early Saturday in the central Sinai Peninsula, according to officials in Cairo and Moscow.
An Egyptian cabinet statement on Saturday morning said that military aircraft had spotted the wreckage of the plane in a mountainous area in Sinai and that more than 40 ambulances had been dispatched to the site to transport bodies and any survivors to hospitals in Cairo and the city of Suez. It did not say if there were any survivors.
The statement said that the plane had been carrying 217 passengers and seven crew members. It had left the airport in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh shortly before 6:00 a.m.. and disappeared from radar screens at 6:20 a.m. The Egyptian civil aviation ministry said the plane was at an altitude of 31,000 feet when it disappeared. It also said that search and rescue teams had reached the wreckage, in the Hasna district, south of the city of El Arish in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
Reports said that preliminary details gave no indication that the plane might have been shot down.
Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia ordered the establishment of a state commission to investigate the crash. The Russian government also announced it was dispatching a special plane from its emergency services to take a team of investigators and rescuers to the scene.
The plane was operated by Kogalymavia, a spokesman for Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, Sergei Isvolsky, told the Interfax news agency in Moscow. The airline, which is privately owned, officially changed its name to MetroJet several years ago, according to a St. Petersburg news website. Kogalymavia operates five Airbus A-321s, according to the site. The flight, Kogalymavia 9268, had been scheduled to land at Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg.
The plane requested an emergency landing before disappearing, the Interfax report said. Aircraft crew members had previously complained about the state of one engine, the RIA Novosti agency reported.
Russian news reports quoted a website called FlightRadar 24, which tracks air traffic around the globe, as saying the plane was descending at a rate of 6,000 feet per minute just before it disappeared from radar.
Those on board the flight were Russian tourists, including 17 children, the Sputnik news agency said.
Apart from coastal resorts in the south, much of the Sinai Peninsula is a closed military zone and the location of a long-running insurgency by jihadist groups against the government of Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
At Pulkovo airport in St. Petersburg, the flight was removed from the arrival board.
The sharp drop in the value of the ruble and tensions with the West over the past year have sharply diminished the number of Russians traveling abroad.
Yet Egypt remained the number one tourist destination for Russians leaving the country in first six months of 2015, with more than one million Russians vacationing there, according to the Russian Federal agency for tourism. A basic package tour including a flight, hotel and meals can be had for as little as $500 or $600 for a week.