The PJ Tatler

Did ISIS Down That Russian Passenger Jet?

It’s beginning to look like somebody did:

Growing speculation in Russian press that airliner was destroyed by on-board explosion

The Kremlin has batted away speculation about the cause of the Sinai air disaster, saying it would be “improper” to express any kind of opinion before investigators report. “No possibility can be excluded at this stage. In fact since the investigation is only just getting underway, we cannot even say what working theories will guide investigators. But in any case, articulating any kind of preliminary guess, any kind of opinion or statement without a basis, would be wrong,” said Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary.

The comments come despite growing speculation in the Russian press that flight 7K9268 may have been destroyed by an on-board explosion – possibly a bomb. Earlier on Monday the Kommersant daily, one of Russia’s most respected newspapers, cited anonymous aviation experts saying that the Airbus A321 may have been destroyed by “explosive decompression of the fuselage.” That doesn’t necessarily mean a bomb: a similar wreckage pattern was seen following the 1997 destruction of an Antonov An-24 near Cherkessk in the Russian North Caucasus. On that occasion, experts concluded deep corrosion of the fuselage had caused the fuselage to rupture in midair.

Kommersant’s sources said that kind of disaster is unlikely in a properly maintained, modern aircraft, and said a closer parallel is the 1998 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. An isolated blast in the luggage compartment probably would not have been enough to destroy the aircraft, but a bomb in the pressurised passenger cabin could well have caused the shockwave that broke up the fuselage, the paper reported. An alternative theory circulating is that if an engine was destroyed by malfunction, fragments could have spun off and smashed through the fuselage.

Anything’s possible. But what seems clear now is that the crew had no time to get off a distress call, and that the plane plummeted sickeningly quickly.

A Metrojet official says its plane crew did not send a distress call and did not contact Egyptian traffic controllers before the plane crashed into the Sinai. Viktor Yung, a deputy director general at the Russian airline, spoke Monday at a news conference in Moscow. His comments directly contradict those of Egyptian officials, who say the doomed plane’s pilot had reported a technical problem to air traffic controllers and wanted to make an emergency landing at the nearest airport.

Another Metrojet official, Alexander Smirnov, on Monday ruled out technical faults or pilot error as a cause of Saturday’s crash, saying it had to be due to “an external impact on the plane.” All 224 people aboard the plane were killed.

Russian president Putin has urged caution until all the facts are in. But if they point in a certain direction…

UPDATE: Not a missile, says one analyst:

The Russian plane that crashed in Egypt was not struck from the outside and the pilot did not make a distress call before it disappeared from radar, a source in the committee analyzing the flight recorders said on Monday. The source declined to give more details but based his comments on the preliminary examination of the black boxes recovered from the Airbus A321 which crashed in the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday killing all 224 people on board.

A civil aviation source said only that Egyptian investigators aided by Russian and French experts had not yet finished examining the black boxes. Russian officials have said the plane, carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg, likely broke up in mid-air but said it was too early to say what caused it to crash.