Russian plane crash: Kremlin blasts ‘shocking’ British government for not sharing intelligence over Egypt plane crash – latest news
David Cameron says crash ‘more likely than not’ caused by bomb as No10 sends RAF to rescue up to 20,000 Britons stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh after cancelling all flights
By Isabelle Fraser, with Raf Sanchez and Magdy Samaan in Sharm El Sheikh, and Roland Oliphant in Moscow
• US intelligence: Isil bomb ‘most likely’ explanation for crash
• Flights could be grounded for “weeks”, as France cancels flights as well
• RAF sends experts to Sharm El-Sheikh airport, but will not airlift 20,000 stranded Brits
• UK convenes emergency talks with Cameron having scheduled meeting with Egyptian president today
• Summary of developments
• Q&A for tourists
• Are you stuck in Sharm El-Sheikh? Emailisabelle.firstname.lastname@example.org
Tourists’ anger directed towards hotel staff as frustration boils over
News agency PA is reporting that fights and frustration are starting to boil over in holiday resorts near Sharm El-Sheikh.
Many holidaymakers in the area have not been told when they will be able to get a flight back to the UK, and have reacted angrily to being charged to stay in the resort’s hotels.
Emma Smyth, who is staying around 12 miles from the airport in the Aqua Blu hotel, said: “Because English people are frustrated and upset, they are taking it out on the staff here, which is not fair”.
“One English family, who are obviously upset and concerned, have asked the hotel if they can stay on. The hotel have set a charge and the tourists can not understand why they are being charged.
“They said they should be allowed to stay and with that one man grabbed one of the managers – they ripped his shirt, ripped his name-badge off and everything.”
What does this mean for Russia’s Middle East policy?
Our correspondent in Moscow, Roland Oliphant, writes that Russian foreign policy experts are divided over what a terror attack would mean for the Kremlin’s Middle East policy.
Mikhail Magid, a Moscow-based publicist and Middle East specialist, argued that the bomb theory, if it turns out to be correct, would throw Vladimir Putin on the horns of a very unpleasant dilemma.
“It would be a big blow to his reputation, and the logical response would be to increase activity in Syria. But they’re not mad in the Kremlin. They know that ground troops in Syria means a second Afghanistan,” he said.
“It’s a very uncomfortable position to be in, and that might be why there’s been a kind of official silence for the past few days. If they admit it’s a terrorist attack, they’ll have to do something about it,” he added.
Photo: Grigory Dukor/Reuters
Conversely, he said, an official or unofficial acknowledgement that Metrojet was taken down by terrorists could signal of an imminent increase in Russia’s involvement in Syria.
“We’ve seen reports recently that the contingent has increased and that artillery is being used. So there is a possible scenario where it is used to legitimise an enlarged deployment,” he said.
Fyodor Lukyanov, who warned at the beginning of Russian intervention in Syria that an atrocity could drag Russian further into the war, said he was “frankly puzzled” about US and British briefings based on unspecified information.
But he added that even if the Metrojet Airbus was destroyed by a bomb, it might not change much.
“If Russian soldiers were captured in Syria and executed by Isil there, then that’s one thing – the perpetrators, and who to retaliate against, would be obvious,” said Mr Lukyanov, who edits the international relations journal Russia in Global Affairs.
“I don’t think this is the case I was talking about. We’re not going to retaliate against Egypt, obviously. And outside the areas of their control, Isil are like a franchise – anyone can set up shop. It it was terrorism, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi probably didn’t do it.”
“It sounds discouraging, but I think the Russian people have got used to the idea that terrorism is part of our lives,” he added. “It’s tragic, it’s bad, but I don’t think it’s going to change anything,” he said.
Germany’s Lufthansa suspends flights to Sharm
Germany’s Lufthansa Group cancels flights of subsidiary airlines to Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Metrojet crash has had less immediate impact in Germany than in the UK because Sharm al-Sheikh is a far less popular holiday destination for Germans. Only around 2,000 Germans are believed to be currently in the Sharm area, compared to some 20,000 Britons.
Airlines told Handelsblatt newspaper there was relatively little demand because Germans already avoided the area because of concerns over terrorism, and there are currently no direct scheduled flights from Germany to Sharm.
The Lufthansa Group has cancelled flights by Edelweiss Air, a partially owned Swiss subsidiary that operates a weekly connection from Zurich, and plans to introduce Sharm as a new destination for Eurowings, one of its low-cost carriers.
Air Berlin, a rival airline, said a charter flight by its partner company Nike planned for Wednesday was “currently being evaluated”
Russia: Britain did not share their intelligence with us
Roland Oliphant in St Petersburg writes:
Russia has not seen the intelligence that prompted Britain to suspend flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the country’s foreign ministry has said.
Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry’s chief spokesperson, said at a weekly briefing on Thursday that suspending flight’s was Britain’s “sovereign decision.”
Photo: Peter Kovalev/Reuters
But she said if Britain had intelligence relating to terrorism it was “shocking” that it had not been shared with Russia.
“Frankly speaking, it is genuinely shocking to think that the British government has some kind of information that could cast light on what happened in the skies above Egypt. If such information exists, and judging by what the foreign secretary has said it does, no one has passed it to the Russian side,” she said.
France cancels flights to Sharm El-Sheikh
Russian news agency RIA Novosti has reported that France has decided to suspend all direct flights from France to Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Elysee Palace sent out a statement after a meeting of the Security Council of France saying they have decided to cancel all direct flights between France and Sharm “to ensure the safety of people from France”.
The Irish connection
More from Christopher Hope:
The Irish Government is helping with the air accident investigation because that is where the downed plane was registered, Patrick McLoughlin has told MPs.
This could be a hint of how the British Government has been able to get firm intelligence about a possible bomb apparently over the heads of the Egyptians.
Britain could impose further travel restrictions
Steven Swinford writes:
Britain could impose further travel restrictions on flights to and from destinations outside Egypt after the Foreign Secretary said there is a “significant possibility” that Isil may have bombed the Russian plane.
Asked about whether further restrictions could be put in place, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: “Clearly as the picture evolves we will want to think clearly about whether lessons should be learned.”
Downing Street said that 16 flights were due to leave Sharm el-Sheikh today, each carrying 200 passengers. The government is focused on restoring flights back from Sharm “as soon as possible” while in “medium term” it is looking at restoring flights to Egypt.
The spokesman confirmed that military planners have been sent to Egypt with “logistical planning expertise” to help with the evacuation of British tourists.
The Prime Minister is speaking to Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, about Britain’s decision to cancel flights. Mr Cameron said that Britain is “working with allies” and that the National Security adviser is sharing Britain’s intelligence assessment.
Asked about the risk facing tourists staying in Sharm el-Sheikh, the spokesman said that the advice remains as it has been for a “significant amount of time” that there is a “high risk of terrorism.
“We would encourage people to look at that advice,” the spokesman said.
The Prime Minister is due to hold a press conference this afternoon after a working lunch with President Sisi. It is not clear whether both Mr Cameron and Mr Sisi will attend the conference.
A rather tense handshake: Sisi arrives at No 10
Transport secretary: repatriation flights will begin tomorrow
Christopher Hope has been listening to Patrick McLoughlin’s statement to MPs:
Britons trapped in Sharm El Sheikh should start to fly home tomorrow, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has told MPs.
The transport secretary said that “hopes” flights out of Sharm will start on Friday.
Mr McLoughlin said: “We are working to make sure that everyone gets home when they hope to do so.”
He also said that Government believes that there is a “significant possibility” that there was a bomb on the Russian jet.
Yesterday Number 10 said that a bomb “may have caused” the crash, which suggests that more intelligence supports the British Government’s view.
Repatriation will start tomorrow
Tour operators will fly empty planes out to Sharm el-Sheikh to pick up and fly British tourists back.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said that repatriation flights were likely to begin tomorrow, and the process could take up to 10 days.
“We expect those to be in operation by tomorrow … those emergency measures will remain in place as we bring out the British tourists currently in Sharm over the next week to 10 days,” he told Sky News.
“In terms of repatriation, the airlines and tour operators expect to be able to bring everyone out on their originally scheduled departures from tomorrow, unless people want to leave early.
“We expect the airlines to make special arrangements for anybody who doesn’t feel comfortable in Sharm, who wants to leave early, to do so.”
Photo: Getty Images
Monarch airlines has said the airline plans to start repatriating their customers from tomorrow.
Their statement said: “All flights in to and out of Sharm El Sheikh are cancelled today Thursday 5 November.
“For customers that were due to fly home on Thursday 5 November and Friday 6 November the airline will be operating three rescue flights in addition to the two scheduled flights tomorrow (Friday 6 November).”
Monarch currently has approximately 3,000 customers in Sharm.
Hammond: Egypt “hasn’t seen all the information” Britain has
A comment made by foreign secretary Philip Hammond to Sky Newsreveals something behind the decision of the government to stop flights.
When asked for his reaction to the Egyptian foreign minister’s comments that Britain’s actions were “Premature and unwarranted”, Mr Hammond said: “Of course this will have a huge negative impact for Egypt. But with respect to him, he hasn’t seen all the information that we have.”
This exchange came just a few hours before David Cameron was due to meet Egyptian president Sisi at Downing Street.
Egypt: UK’s decision was made without consulting Cairo
News agency AP reports that Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abouzeid says Britain’s decision to suspend flights to Sharm el-Sheikh was taken unilaterally without consulting Cairo.
In a statement, Abouzeid says Egypt and the U.K. had high-level communication hours before Britain’s decision.
He added that Egypt has reacted positively to British concerns and has bolstered airport security. He also says that this does not mean that Egypt views airport security as the cause of the plane crash.
Meanwhile in London, police have detained a protester at a demonstration against Egyptian president Sisi, who is due to meet David Cameron this lunchtime.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
News agency AFP reports that around 200 demonstrators protested against Sisi’s human rights record, but they were outnumbered by those proclaiming support for the Egyptian leader.
Police removed five anti-Sisi protesters dressed in white boiler suits, who lay on the pavement playing dead while blocking the gates to Downing Street.
One had “Freedom” written on his back and another “Human Rights”, while another wore a noose around his neck.
Cameron: crash “more likely than not” caused by bomb
David Cameron has told ITV News that it could “take some time” to start flying UK tourists back from Sharm El-Sheikh, and that the crash was “more likely than not” caused by a bomb.
Speaking after chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee, Mr Cameron said he would discuss the situation with Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi who is due at Number 10 shortly.Mr Cameron said he would call Vladimir Putin this afternoon to explain Britain’s decision to suspend flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.
“I’ll be calling President Putin in a moment or two to discuss this with him,” he told reporters, adding that he would “explain to him why we’ve taken the action we’ve taken.”
“The decisions that I am taking are about putting the safety of British people first,” Mr Cameron said. “That is why we have suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh and that is why it is going to take some time before we can fly people out.
“What we need to put in place is more security at that airport so it is safe to fly people home.”
Philip Hammond arrives at Downing Street for COBRA meeting
Photo: Getty Images
Meanwhile, pro- and anti-Sisi demonstrations take place before David Cameron sits down with him this lunchtime.
Britons trapped in Sharm El-Sheikh
Paul Modley, who has travelled to Sharm el-Sheikh seven times in the last nine years, said he understands the decision to suspend flights, but hopes the resort is not too badly affected.
“We understand why the Government have done it, but I am really worried for the Egyptian people because – particularly in the Red Sea resorts – they are so dependent on tourism.”
Mr Modley, 49, from Ealing, west London, is due to fly back to the UK with Monarch on Saturday.
“The staff at the hotel are putting on a very positive face,” he said. “I do not think they will fully appreciate it right now but if this carries on for some time they will start to see the impact.
“People need to take the Government’s advice around travel. But I would hate to think that we wouldn’t be able to come back to Sharm because of local issues with terrorist cells.”
Mr Modley, who was also stranded in New York three years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, added that he felt “slightly jinxed” but said it was just “one of those things”.
He denied that security in the area is lax, saying: “We have always felt really safe here and we still feel safe. We are sitting round the pool carrying on as normal.”
‘Grounding Egyptian flights is hasty – we need President Sisi on side’
Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s defence editor, argues that taking action that harms the Egyptian economy could be counterproductive to David Cameron’s plans for bringing stability to North Africa.
This will come as a severe blow to Mr Sisi, for a healthy tourism industry is vital to his plans to regenerate the Egyptian economy. For, during his interview with the Telegraph, Mr Sisi was keen to stress the importance of improving trade ties and investment opportunities for British firms as part of his attempts to rebuild the Egyptian economy.
To Mr Sisi’s mind, lack of economic opportunity among Egypt’s young, restless population was the real underlying cause of the protests that erupted in Tahrir Square four years ago. As he told me in the interview, he regards it to be a fundamental human right for all Egyptians to have employment, a decent standard of living and access to medical care and education, and the only way to achieve this worthy goal is through economic development.
“Taking action that harm’s the Egyptian economy could be counterproductive to Mr Cameron’s plans for bringing stability to North Africa”
In this context, tourism plays a vital role in the Egyptian economy. Before the so-called Arab Spring, Egypt’s warm climate, ancient monuments and golden beaches attracted nearly 13 million visitors each year which was worth a massive £11 billion to the Egyptian economy.
But now, thanks to Mr Cameron’s decision to ground all British flights to and from Sinai, Egypt’s tourism industry has suffered a severe blow, one that could completely undo all of the Egyptian plans for economic regeneration.
Taking action that harm’s the Egyptian economy could also be counterproductive to Mr Cameron’s plans for bringing stability to North Africa after all the political turbulence of the past four years. The Prime Minister has moved on from his naive enthusiasm for the Arab Spring four years ago which saw him join anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square calling for the overthrow of Mr Sisi’s military predecessor, President Hosni Mubarak.
Britons in Sharm worried about how to get home
Raf Sanchez reports from Sharm El-Sheikh:
Andrew Weir and his girlfriend Chloe Glanville have had an eventful week in Sharm el-Sheikh.
On Tuesday he proposed to her – 15 meters under the Red Sea. He wrote on a dive slate: “Stay calm. Will you marry me.” She nodded yes.
On Saturday, the Metrojet flight crashed in the Sinai but the couple only learned the news on Monday.
“I wasn’t massively worried because things do happen on planes,” Mr Weir said. “I’m obviously a little more concerned now – less for my safety and more for how I’m going to get home.”
The 25-year-old and his now fiancé are due to fly out tomorrow on Easyjet but so far do not know if they will be able to get home. “It’s quite frustrating,” he said, adding that it had been difficult to get information from Easyjet. “They haven’t been very forthcoming with information,” he said.
Mr Weir works as a retail manager in Northampton and is due to be back at work on Saturday. “That’s my main concern, really, making sure I can get back for work.”
Independent travellers might not get compensation for cancelled Sharm trip
Gordon Rayner, chief reporter, writes:
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has warned independent travellers that they could be liable to pay 100 per cent of their hotel costs if they are unable to travel to Sharm el-Sheikh.
ABTA’s Sean Tipton told The Telegraph that while package tourists can expect a full refund or an alternative holiday if Foreign Office advice prevents them flying to Sharm, people who have booked independently may lose money.
He said: “They should be able to transfer their flights, but if they have booked accommodation separately they will almost certainly be charged if they are unable to go to Sharm. In some cases the cancellation fee can be 100 per cent of the cost of their stay. It really does depend on the terms and conditions of individual hotels at the time the booking was made.”
Egypt rejects theory that plane was brought down by a bomb
Egypt’s civil aviation authority has released a statement rejecting claims that a bomb might have been detonated aboard the jet, and insisting that its security measures to conform to international standards.
Hossam Kamal, Minister of Civil Aviation of Egypt, explained that “the hypothesis of detonating the Russian aircraft is not based on facts”, adding that there was no “evidence or data confirming this hypothesis”.
There are 23 flights from Russia operating today to Sharm El-Sheikh, 8 from Ukraine, 3 from Italy, 1 from Turkey, 2 from Saudi Arabia, one from Jordan, one from Belgium.
Q&A for tourists
I’m in Sharm El Sheikh – what should I do?
Until a security assessment is completed, all flights to and from Sharm El Sheikh have been grounded.
Those on package holidays should be looked after by their tour operator, which is legally obliged to get them home. Until a flight is available, customers will usually be allowed to stay in their original hotel, or will be moved to one of a similar standard on a half-board or all-inclusive basis.
What about independent travellers?
EU regulations make it clear that, when a flight with an EU airline – or from an EU airport – is cancelled, an airline is liable to pay for the cost of a hotel and subsistence for all those stranded as a result, until a replacement flight is provided. Should your airline advise you to buy your own food and accommodation, keep all receipts, and keep such costs to a reasonable minimum, before making a claim when you get back to Britain.
For non-EU airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority says: “Some may provide refreshments and accommodation for passengers while they wait for their delayed flight. Some airlines will not. If they do not, you can try to claim for reimbursement of your expenses due to the delay. You have the right to claim for this under the Montreal Convention. Be aware that you may struggle to be reimbursed for anything other than meals or overnight hotel accommodation, so spend wisely. Keep receipts.”
I’m due to fly to Sharm – what are my rights?
Those due to travel on a package break will be entitled to a full refund – or an replacement holiday – if their trip is cancelled.
Independent travellers are entitled to a refund from their airline, under EU regulations, if their flight is cancelled. If you have booked accommodation independently, however, (ie not as part of a package holiday) your contract is with the hotel or villa and you are responsible for any cancellation. If you can’t get there, you can try your best to persuade them to give you a refund or to rebook for a later date – but they are not obliged to do this and you may lose money.
Photo: Getty Images
Will I get compensation for any delay?
No. EU regulations mean passengers are entitled to cash compensation when their flight is delayed for three hours or more, but not if the delay is beyond an airline’s control.
Am I covered by my travel insurance?
Your policy may pay out a small amount for very long delays (usually over 12 hours), but not usually enough to pay for more than a meal or two. A few policies have cover for a “consequential loss”, such as a hotel booking made independently. Check your the terms and conditions of your policy.
Protests begin with Sisi soon to arrive in Downing Street
Egyptian president Sisi is due to visit David Cameron at Downing Street this lunchtime for a, shall we say, tense meeting.
It’s unclear whether there will be a press conference, but at one earlier today at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, he told the BBC’s Frank Gardner that the investigation was still underway.
Protesters are starting to gather at Downing Street with flags, placards and in costume.
Photo: Lee Thomas
Britain’s decision was to put pressure on Russia over Syria, says Russian senator
Our correspondent in St Petersburg, Roland Oliphant, writes:
Britain’s decision to suspend flights to Sharm el-Sheikh is partly intended to exert “psychological pressure” on Russia over its involvement in Syria, a senior Russian senator has said.
“I can’t say that was the only reason, but [that motive] is certainly present,” Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, told journalists on Thursday.
“There’s ongoing geopolitical opposition to Russia’s actions in Syria,” he said. “Blasphemous as it sounds, I think there are plenty of people in the world who would prefer to knowingly, prematurely, and without any basis write off this disaster as a jihadist response to Russia,” he said.
Mr Kosachyov said Russia would follow Britain in curtailing flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh “if sufficient basis for it emerges, and not earlier.”
Earlier Russia’s state tourism regulator said it had not received any advice from the Foreign Ministry regarding dangers to tourists travelling to Sharm el-Sheikh, and continued to work “as routine.”
Kremlin: claims over the cause of the crash “speculation”, with Russian planes continuing to fly to Sharm
The Kremlin on Thursday dismissed any claims over the cause of the passenger jet crash in Egypt as “speculation” after Britain and the US said a bomb may have downed the plane.
“Any sort of version of what happened and the reasons for what happened can only be put forward by the investigation and we have not heard any announcements from the investigation yet,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, adding that “any other proposed explanations seem like unverified information or some sort of speculation.”
Peskov said Russian planes were continuing to fly to and from Sharm el-Sheikh Airport in Egypt, despite Ireland and Britain suspending flights.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a government meeting on Thursday that it was too early to draw any conclusions about the causes of a Russian plane crash in Egypt, but ordered additional security measures.
What does this mean for Putin?
Peter Foster, our Europe editor, has written about if it is proved that a bomb brought down the MetroJet plane, it will damage Putin’s domestic reputation for security.
For Mr Putin, whose domestic support rests on the twin pillars of economic and national security, a successful strike by Isil against an airliner full of middle class Russians on their way back from an Egyptian holiday will represent a significant blow to his prestige.
Already Mr Putin’s reputation for delivering economic well-being has been badly dented by international sanctions and the slump in world oil prices that has seen wages fall by over 10 per cent in the past year.
Photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
The decision to intervene in Syria was ostensibly designed to take Russian minds off such domestic problems and the developing stalemate in Crimea, but that move – initially viewed as decisive when contrasted with Western dithering in Syria – always carried risks.
Russians well remember both Chechnya and Afghanistan – the last time they became embroiled in a jihadist war of attrition – and it is the emotional legacy of these conflicts that, unlike the “patriotic” war in Crimea, now suddenly hang heavy over Mr Putin’s Syrian adventure.
He will show no outward fear, but privately the spectre of Russians dying once again at the hands of jihadist suicide bombers, whether in the skies above Egypt or the subways of Moscow and St Petersburg, will deeply alarm Mr Putin.
RAF planes will not airlift stranded Britons, says MoD
Ben Farmer, Defence Correspondent, writes:
The Ministry of Defence denied reports that C-17 planes were being readied to airlift tourists home.
A defence source said the RAF has longstanding contingency plans for airlifting Britons home from crises around the world.
However in this case, the scale of the number of people stranded meant it was expected be faster to ensure the airport in Sharm El Sheikh was secure and have the tourists fly back on commercial planes.
A small team of security and logistics experts were travelling with staff from the FCO and Department for Transport.
Patrick McLouglin, the transport secretary, will be speaking in the Commons later this morning.
Russia starts to bury its dead
Russia today began to bury the first victims of the plane crash in Egypt as Britain and the United States said the jet might have been brought down by a bomb.
Several hundred relatives and friends gathered in the city of Veliky Novgorod, around 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of Saint Petersburg, to bid farewell to Nina Lushchenko, a 60-year-old school employee.
Lushchenko was one of the 244 people who died in the crash.
Photo: OLGA MALTSEVA/Getty Images
Friends and relatives at the funeral said they did not want to assign blame and would like to steer clear of politics.
“There’s no need to speak about politics right now. What does it have to do with this?” one of the relatives, Alexander Afanasyev, 50, told AFP.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Local authorities said 15 residents of Veliky Novgorod, including a child, were among the crash victims.
British forces helping rescue stranded Britons
Ben Farmer, Defence Correspondent, writes:
British military personnel have arrived in Sharm El Sheikh to help stranded British tourists.
Defence sources said the small team of security and logistics experts were travelling with staff from the FCO and Department for Transport.
They are expected to asses airport security and arrangements for getting tourists home.
On the ground in Sharm
Our correspondent Raf Sanchez in Sharm El-Sheikh writes:
I arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh late last night on a flight from Cairo. The airport was mostly deserted but the security presence was still clear. Police in white uniforms roamed the empty terminal while soldiers slumped in vans at the entrance. Plainclothes security officers with guns also mingled with passengers.
Earlier in the day consular staff from the British embassy in high-vis vests were on hand to help UK tourists whose travel plans had been disrupted. But there was also a more discreet team of aviation experts from the Department of Transport quietly inspecting the security arrangements in place.
Either something they saw, or something that British intelligence has picked up, left the British government feeling less than confident in security procedures at the airport.
Metrojet grounding all its A321s over pending safety checks
The Russian Federal Transport Agency says airliner Metrojet has suspended all flights of Airbus A321 jets in its fleet after last weekend’s crash of its plane in Sinai.
The agency said in a statement Thursday that Metrojet has filed documents showing the suspension, pending checks by the authorities. Metrojet has four A321 aircraft.
Russian Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov says Russian rescue teams are wrapping up their search for any more remains of victims of last Saturday’s plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Puchkov said after a televised conference call with Russian experts in Egypt on Thursday that the 40 square kilometer (15 square mile) -area should be combed by 10 p.m. Moscow time.
Hammond: Flight disruption “could take weeks” and is planning emergency measures to evacuate Sharm tourists
Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, said British authorities were working with their Egyptian counterparts and the airlines to introduce emergency measures to bring British tourists safely and securely back to the UK.
He told Sky News: “We’re working with the airlines and the Egyptian authorities now to put in place emergency short-term measures that will allow us to safely bring back the British tourists who are there in Sharm”.
And he told Radio 4: “We have an immediate problem to deal with… and we will do whatever is necessary.
“If we have to send in additional personnel, additional equipment, if we have to have unusual handling arrangements for returning those flights we will do so.
“Regardless of the cost, regardless of the delay, regardless of the inconvenience.”
He also told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “These are special additional measures, not necessarily something that we could do on a sustainable basis but something that we will put in as a short term special measure to get back home the people who are there now.”
In the longer term they will look at tightening routine procedures at Sharm el-Sheikh to ensure that normal flights can resume to and from the area.
But he warned: “That could take days, it could take weeks … it depends on the experts.”
And Mr Hammond reiterated that he understood the frustrations of the Egyptian authorities about the decision to suspend flights, but said they understood it was taken out of “the best of motives” and that they had been “extremely co-operative”.
Mr Hammond said 19 flights that were due to leave the UK for Sharm el-Sheikh today and would have brought tourists home have been cancelled, but airlines expect to bring holidaymakers back to the UK from tomorrow.
Emergency measures to screen everything going on to planes will last “for as long as it takes” to bring people home, he told the BBC, adding that authorities on the ground will “only allow those planes to take off when they are absolutely confident that the measures they have designed have been fully implemented and we can absolutely assure the safety of those aircraft”.
The view from Russia
Our correspondent in St Petersburg, Roland Oliphant, writes:
Russia is keeping to its “no theory should be ruled out” line, and the Kremlin/Foreign ministry hasn’t commented publicly on the British and American claims.
The state tourism agency says it has received no advice from the foreign ministry to stop people visiting Egypt, which presumably means Russian flights in and out of Sharm will continue.
Some think that ulterior motives are at play in Britain’s decision to cancel flights: Konstantin Kosachev, a member of the upper house of parliament, said: “There is geopolitical opposition to the actions of Russia in Syria.”
Russian tour operators reported a massive drop off in sales immediately after the crash, so this could potentially have a major impact.
The British/American comments have been widely reported in the non-state media, but the major outlets have been somewhat playing it down – not completely burying it, but keeping it out of the lead headlines and reporting it as “one possibility”.
Some people have pointed out that the bomb, if it was a bomb, may not have been planted in Sharm el Sheikh – it could have been hidden on board on the outward flight from St Petersburg.
Is the airport safe?
A US official told CNN: “This airport has lax security. It is known for that,” the official said. “But there is intelligence suggesting an assist from someone at the airport. ”
The deputy head of Sharm El-Sheikh airport, Hany Ramsay, was quoted by AP as suggesting ulterior motives to Downing Street’s decision: “Other countries might soon follow them. They want to hurt tourism and cause confusion,” Ramsey told the AP last night. He suggested that ulterior political and commercial motives may be behind the British statement.
The government’s plan
Today, David Cameron is due to meet the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Downing Street at lunchtime, which should be a tense meeting to say the least.
Last night, a spokesperson at the Egyptian aviation authority dismissed Downing Street’s statement as “speculation” and said the public should await the findings of the Egyptian-led investigation.
The Prime Minster will chair another meeting of Cobra later this morning, Downing Street said.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin will also be updating MPs on security situation at 10.30 in the Commons.
The situation for tourists
A host of travel operators have responded to the Government’s warnings by grounding flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.
EasyJet, Thomson Airways, Thomas Cook and British Airways are among the companies which have cancelled all flights to and from the Red Sea resort, several until next Thursday, following the Foreign Office’s (FO) warning against “all but essential” travel.
Travel agent association Abta has estimated there are at least 9,000 Britons on holiday at the resort and advised passengers who were stranded or were booked to go in the next few days to contact their tour operator.
EasyJet said it had cancelled its flights to and from the resort today and would keep future flights “under review, pending further advice from the Government”.
“Passengers booked to travel to Sharm el-Sheikh in the next two weeks are able to request a refund, or change their flights to an alternative date or destination free of charge.
“We are doing all possible to keep all affected passengers informed and have provided hotel rooms for those delayed overnight this evening. We are working with the UK Government to work out the basis upon which easyJet can fly passengers in Sharm el-Sheikh back home,” it said.
Thomson Airways, along with First Choice, confirmed it has cancelled all outbound flights to Sharm el-Sheikh up to and including Thursday November 12.
A statement said: “All customers booked to travel to Sharm el-Sheikh in this period will be provided with a full refund. As a priority, we are contacting customers due to travel tomorrow and ask those travelling later in the week to please bear with us as we manage this evolving situation.”
British Airways said flights to and from the resort would probably be delayed by 24 hours.
Thomas Cook has also cancelled all flights until next Thursday. The company said it hoped to bring its 1,700 customers back to the UK “in due course” and those due to fly today would be allowed to stay in their accommodation for free.
Those due to fly in the next week would be allowed to cancel or re-book with a £25 discount, the firm said.
Monarch has grounded all flights today and said it was working with the FO to arrange to fly its customers back to the UK.
Summary of developments
The United States and Britain said on Wednesday a bomb may have brought down a Russian airliner which crashed in Egypt, as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) group insisted it caused the disaster.
Britain and Ireland suspended flights to and from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the plane took off on Saturday bound for Saint Petersburg before crashing minutes later, killing all 224 people on board.
“A bomb is a highly possible scenario,” a US official told AFP. “It would be something that ISIL would want to do,” he added, using an alternate name for the Islamic State (IS) group.
David Cameron’s office said that “as more information has come to light, we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device”.
Meanwhile the head of Sharm el-Sheikh airport has been replaced, according to Adel Mahgoub, chairman of the state company that runs Egypt’s civilian airports. He said Abdel-Wahab Ali has been “promoted” to become his assistant, a move he said had nothing to do with media scepticism surrounding the airport’s security.
The announcement comes as Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian president, is set to hold talks with Mr Cameron in London on Thursday, during his first visit to Britain since he led the army’s overthrow of his predecessor Mohamed Morsi.
In Russia, authorities are expected to bury the first victim of the crash – the country’s deadliest air disaster.
Photo: EPA/ANATOLY MALTSEV
Moscow and Cairo both dismissed Isil’s initial claim it brought down the Airbus A-321 in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, but the jihadists on Wednesday again insisted they were responsible and promised to reveal how.
If confirmed, it would be the first time the militant group, which controls vast tracts of Syria and Iraq, has bombed a passenger plane.
Egyptian officials said investigators probing the plane’s black boxes had extracted the data from one of them for analysis, but added the other had been damaged and required a lot of work.
In a new statement on Wednesday, Isil again insisted it had brought down the plane – and challenged sceptics to prove otherwise.
“Prove that we didn’t bring it down, and how it came down. We will detail how it came down at the time of our choosing,” the group said in an audio statement posted online.
The Isil affiliate in Egypt is waging a bloody insurgency in the north of the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers.
On Wednesday, it claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing on a police social club in El-Arish, which the official Mena news agency said killed four policemen.
Isil has deployed shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles in the past, but they are not known to possess weapons that could bring down an airliner at high altitude.
Photo: Dmitriy Kiselev/EPA
Egypt has played down the possibility of a bomb attack and stressed the need to wait for the results of an international investigation, keen to preserve the country’s economically vital tourism sector.
Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, said an estimated 20,000 Britons currently in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh will be helped to leave.
“There is a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft,” he said after an emergency cabinet meeting.
Mr Cameron’s office said he and Sisi had agreed on the need for tight security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport, and British aviation experts have been dispatched to the resort to assess security.
Russian airline Kogalymavia, which operated the plane, has ruled out a technical fault or human error, drawing fire from the head of Russia’s aviation authority for a “premature” assessment.
Experts say the fact that debris and bodies were strewn over a wide area points indicated the aircraft disintegrated in mid-air, meaning the crash was likely caused by either a technical fault or a bomb on board.
Flight KGL9268 was flying at altitude of 30,000 feet (9,144 metres) when it lost contact with authorities, 23 minutes after takeoff.
A US military satellite picked up a heat flash at the time of the crash that could point to a catastrophic event during the flight, US media reported.
Vladimir Putin, Russian president, has described the crash as a “huge tragedy”, and the first victim was expected to be buried on Thursday.
Relatives of the victims have begun identifying the bodies after two planes delivered the remains of many to Saint Petersburg.
In the city centre, about 300 people attended a vigil for the dead on Wednesday.