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People arrange candles to make a cross to commemorate 224 victims of a Russian airliner which crashed in Egypt, on the stairs of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, November 1, 2015. An Airbus A321, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, carrying 224 passengers crashed into a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai peninsula on Saturday shortly after losing radar contact near cruising altitude, killing all aboard. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a day of national mourning for Sunday. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov - RTX1U9UO

Only external force could have broken apart crashed Russian airliner – owner

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The Russian passenger jet that crashed in Sinai, Egypt, must have been damaged by a force in flight and couldn’t have just broken apart, the airline of the ill-fated Airbus A321 said. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has urged an end to speculation until the investigation is complete.

“It would be wrong to articulate any preliminary guesses or voice statements that are not based on anything,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for the Russian president, on Monday. “Let the investigators produce at least some results first.”

The crew of Kolavia Flight 7K9268 was apparently disabled before the aircraft started its rapid descent and crashed in the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, Viktor Yung, deputy director of the airline told the media on Monday.

“As the catastrophic incident started to develop, the crew members were rendered completely incapable. This explains why they didn’t attempt to contact air traffic and report the incident happening on board,” he said.

The airline doesn’t believe human error could have been the cause of the disaster either, citing the experience of its captain and other crewmembers.

“We are certain that neither technical malfunction nor pilot error” can be blamed for the disaster, Aleksandr Smirnov, who supervises the company’s fleet, said.

The company believes that serious structural damage by an external force may have caused the crash.

“The only possible explanation is a mechanical force acting on the aircraft,” Smirnov said. “There is no combination of system failures that could have broken the plane apart in the air.”

The company gave assurances that the crashed Airbus had passed all necessary tests, including a check for metal fatigue in 2014, an inspection that must be done every six years.

The head of the Russian aviation authority, Aleksand Neradko, said Kogalymavia’s statements are “premature and not based on real facts.”

“There is much work to be done to study the debris of the aircraft and the data of the flight recorders,” he told Rossiya 24 news channel. “The debris is indeed spread over a large area indicating that the plane fell apart at a high altitude. But speculating on the cause is premature.”

The airline Kogalymavia, which uses the brand name Metrojet, owns the Airbus A321 that crashed in Egypt just 20 minutes after it took off Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport. All 224 people on board died in the disaster, making it the deadliest incident of this kind in Russian aviation history.

Investigators said they were looking into all possible causes of the crash, including human error, technical failure and foul play.

The situation is expected to become clearer after the data is recovered from the plane’s flight recorders. They were recovered from the crash site and are “in good condition” Vladimir Puchkov, the head of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry told the media on Monday, after inspecting the devices. Egypt is to decide where the analysis of the records will be conducted, since according to international rules it is responsible for investigating the crash.

A militant group associated with Islamic State claimed to have shot down the Russian plane. But this claim was deemed unreliable, since the shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles they may have in their possession have too short a range to take down a plane flying at a high altitude.

“Now, different media report… that a Russian passenger airliner on a flight from Sharm El-Sheikh to St. Petersburg has been allegedly shot down by an anti-aircraft missile fired by terrorists. This information cannot be regarded as reliable,” said Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sharif Ismail has also expressed doubt about the claim.

“Experts have affirmed that technically planes at this altitude cannot be shot down, and the black box will be the one that will reveal the reasons for the crash,” Mr Ismail was quoted by state news agency MENA as saying.

There are no traces of explosives on the plane parts examined by specialists, a source close to the investigation told RIA Novosti on Monday.