Cockpit recordings from the Metrojet flight that crashed in the Sinai desert appears to confirm that the cause was sudden and unexpected, with no distress call from pilots and no unusual sounds heard at the moment the plane went off the radar, according to Russian media reports.
The Interfax news service said it had seen a transcript of the cockpit recordings from the black boxes being examined by Egyptian officials, as they try to piece together what caused Saturday’s crash that killed 224 people on board, mainly Russian holidaymakers.
Pilots spoke to air traffic controllers four minutes before the aircraft disappeared from the radar, in a routine exchange, and no unusual conversation followed. But an unnamed source quoted by Interfax said “sounds uncharacteristic of routine flight were recorded preceding the moment that the aircraft disappeared from radar screens”.
The recording indicated a situation had developed “suddenly and unexpectedly”, the source added. It was not possible to verify the report, and Interfax gave no further information. Investigators are yet to officially release data or findings.
On Tuesday Egypt’s president dismissed as propaganda claims that terrorism was involved in the crash , as the US banned its diplomatic staff from travelling to the area.
James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence said a terrorist attack could not be ruled out as a possible cause, but conceded there was “no direct evidence” that the Airbus A321 was brought down by Islamic State militants. The US embassy in Cairo has instructed its staff not to travel anywhere in the Sinai peninsula as a precautionary measure until the outcome of the investigation is known.
On Sunday a militant group affiliated to Isis in Egypt claimed responsibility for bringing down the plane “in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land”.
Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi insisted Sinai was safe despite the presence of Isis-affiliated militants in the area.
“When there is propaganda that it crashed because of Isis, this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt,” he said. “Believe me, the situation in Sinai – especially in this limited area – is under our full control.”
Late on Monday, the US news outlets CBS and NBC cited defence sources saying an American infrared satellite had detected a heat flash over Sinai at the time of the incident, which could indicate a bomb or some other device may have exploded.
A Russian government commission overseeing the investigation was due to meet on Tuesday. Technical or mechanical failure, the firing of a missile or an onboard explosion would all be investigated as possible causes.
Russian officials have said the plane, carrying holidaymakers from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg, probably broke up in midair but it was too early to say what caused it. Igor Albin, the deputy governor of St Petersburg, said the first nine victims have been identified.
Britain’s Foreign Office has updated its travel advice to Egypt to take note of the crash. It continues to advise against all but essential travel to Sinai with the exception of Sharm el-Sheikh – one of the most popular winter destinations for British tourists.
Allegations over possible factors in the crash, including the airworthiness of the aircraft and speculation that it was downed deliberately, have been swirling since Saturday, with sources in Egypt making claims that have been subsequently denied.
The Irish Aviation Authority, where the plane was registered, said it had conducted an annual review of the aircraft certifications in April/May 2015 and found “all certifications were satisfactory at that point in time”.
Concerns about the airworthiness of the plane heightened after it emerged that Metrojet had not paid its employees for at least two months. Representatives ofKogalymavia, which owns the airline, insisted there were no financial problems that could have influenced safety.
Alexander Smirnov, the deputy general director of Metrojet, said on Monday: “We rule out a technical fault of the plane or a pilot error. The only explainable cause is physical impact on the aircraft.”
Two of the few known facts regarding the disaster are the plane’s speed and altitude before the crash. According to Smirnov – and largely confirmed by a commercial air tracking service – the plane slowed by 186mph and dropped about 5,000ft in altitude a minute before it crashed, having just reached its cruising altitude of around 32,000ft.
“This isn’t flying, it’s falling. Apparently, the plane sustained damage before this [and] that became the reason for the fall,” Smirnov said.
Meanwhile, the Russian state carrier Aeroflot has replaced an Airbus A321 aircraft on its Moscow-St Petersburg route due to technical issues.
A source told the Tass news agency that the plane, the same model as the one that crashed in Sinai, had engine problems but had not left the ground.
Matthew Weaver, Gwyn Topham and agencies