Questions Raised on Egypt Airline's Safety
Sunday January 4, 2004 9:16 PM
By JOCELYN GECKER
Associated Press Writer
SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP) - Questions were raised
Sunday about a charter airline's safety standards
after one of its planes crashed into the Red Sea,
killing 148 people. Swiss authorities said they banned
Flash Airlines 14 months ago after it flunked an
inspection and an Italian passenger recalled a flight
when an engine burst into flames.
The head of the airline said the aircraft had been
in good condition before the crash. Officials suspect
``I am 100 percent sure that the plane was fit for
flying,'' Mohamed Nour, chairman of Flash Airlines,
told The Associated Press on Sunday. ``Accidents
happen. We are sorry for the losses of life but we
shouldn't jump into speculation.''
Search crews on military and civilian vessels
continued efforts to recover bodies, the flight data
recorder and the fuselage.
The extreme depth of the wreckage, believed to be
resting in 2,600 feet of water, was hampered recovery,
and only small plane pieces and body parts from the
shark-infested waters near the resort had been found.
France dispatched three aircraft with 50 experts, a
military surveillance plane, a naval frigate, 16 scuba
divers and a robot submarine to help. Of the 148
passengers who died, there were 133 French tourists, a
Japanese, a Moroccan and 13 Egyptian crew members.
French Deputy Foreign Minister Renaud Muselier told
reporters there was nothing to suggest that terrorism
was the cause of Saturday's crash of Flash Airlines
Flight FSH604, which had just taken off from Sharm
el-Sheik on its way to Paris when it crashed.
French Transport Minister Gilles de Robien said
indications suggest the plane suffered ``simply a loss
Egyptian officials have said preliminary
information indicates the crash was caused by a
mechanical problem. Radar images showed the plane
turned left as normal after takeoff, straightened out
and then turned right before plunging into the sea.
Several tourists and witnesses interviewed by AP
said they did not hear any explosions before the
Egypt has said the Flash Airlines jet, an
11-year-old Boeing 737, had checked out fine before
Swiss officials said Sunday that technical problems
forced them to ban the Egyptian company's planes from
landing in Switzerland.
``A series of safety shortcomings showed up in a
plane of Flash Airlines during a routine security
check at Zurich Airport in October 2002,'' Celestine
Perissinotto, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal
Office for Civil Aviation, told AP.
Egyptian Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafeeq called the
Swiss charge ``baseless.'' French Transport Minister
Gilles de Robien also cast doubt on the claim, saying
he understood ``it was more for economic reasons that
this company did not fly over Switzerland.''
``I call for extreme caution with this type of
announcement that adds emotion for families who
certainly don't need it at the moment,'' the French
minister said on Europe-1 radio.
Perissinotto said the Swiss report had been given
to Egyptian civil aviation authorities. ``Since then
we have had no reaction,'' Perissinotto said.
Nour, Flash's chairman, confirmed the Swiss had
stopped flights but said the airline made the
necessary maintenance and was inspected again.
``After that we were allowed to fly again, with
Swiss citizens on board,'' he said, adding that the
airline made one more flight to Switzerland the next
week, and then the contract ended.
Nour confirmed Italian press reports that a Flash
plane caught fire while flying over Greece the same
month as the Zurich airport inspection. Italian
tourists recalled seeing flames coming out of the
starboard engine on a flight from Sharm el-Sheik to
Bologna, Italy, on Oct. 27, 2002. The plane landed at
Athens airport with fire engines alongside the runway.
``To say that the plane was decrepit would be a
compliment,'' passenger Eugenio Gedda told Italian
state television Sunday.
Flash Airlines' chief pilot Hassan Mounir could not
say if the fire occurred on the same plane that
crashed Saturday, but said such incidents aren't
unusual. ``It's normal,'' he said. ``You can have an
engine fire in flight.''
Flash Airlines, which has been in business six
years, operated two Boeing 737s.
Asked whether the fire and Zurich inspection raised
questions about the standard of maintenance at Flash
Airlines, Mounir replied: ``No, our planes are very
Flash Airlines' remaining plane, also an
11-year-old Boeing 737, flew tourists from France to
Cairo Sunday, according to airport officials. It was
not clear how many passengers were on board.
Muselier told reporters in Sharm el-Sheik that
about 60 ``portions of bodies'' had been retrieved,
but that the remains were so badly mangled that it
would be difficult to identify them.
In a solemn, brief ceremony out at sea, the dead
were bid a final farewell. French, Egyptian and
Japanese officials led a convoy of three tourist
ferries filled with journalists to the site where the
plane went down.
There, they held three bouquets, wrapped at the
stem with the French, Egyptian and Japanese flags,
upside down and let them slip into the water, as
helicopters flew overhead.