Saturday, January 3, 2004. 9:37pm (Australian Eastern Daylight Time)
Red Sea plane crash kills 148
An Egyptian plane carrying 135 French tourists and 13 Egyptians crashed into the Red Sea shortly after take-off from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh early on Saturday, killing all on board, according to officials.
"All people who were aboard the plane are dead," Osama al-Sayed, a senior official with its owners, Flash Airlines, told reporters.
The aircraft disappeared from the radar screens of Cairo airport at 4:44 am (local time), minutes after taking off from the Red Sea resort, the civil aviation authority said.
According to the Al-Ahram newspaper, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was scheduled to go to Sharm el-Sheikh Saturday for talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is holidaying there.
"There were 135 French tourists aboard as well as 13 Egyptians, six of them crew members," said an airline official asking not to be identified.
"The plane had arrived from Venice with Italian tourists aboard and took off an hour later.
"The aircraft had been due to make a short stopover in Cairo to refuel before continuing to Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris."
State television showed air force planes, navy ships and a helicopter searching the sea within sight of the coastline, but no debris or bodies were shown.
The official MENA news agency said only one body had so far been pulled from the water.
"No survivors have been found after five hours of searching, and only one piece of airplane debris has been recovered," said Sayed.
The Boeing 737 carried a relief crew of seven and a working crew of six as well as the French holidaymakers, the television said.
Pieces of wreckage were found in the sea about 15 kilometres south of Sharm el-Sheikh, civil aviation authorities said.
Flight 604 had been due to land at the charter terminal of Paris's Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport at 9.00 am (local time), the airport authority said.
The French foreign ministry said its diplomatic services were on an emergency footing in both Paris and Cairo, seeking to find out the circumstances of the crash.
Airport officials comforted a group of people who had been awaiting friends and relatives returning on the charter aircraft from a winter break.
Ambulances were on hand in case of need as the waiting group was ushered onto a bus, and taken to an airport hotel to be given more information on the disaster.
Journalists were kept at a distance by airport staff.
The crash came just days after a similar accident in the tiny West African state of Benin, when a plane owned by Guinean-based airline UTA skidded into the sea off the capital Cotonou, killing 139 people, many of them Lebanese.
Several British, French and Mexican flights to the United States have been cancelled in recent days.
Washington and London have been on heightened alert throughout the Christmas and New Year period because of fears of a terror attack, possibly an attempt by Al Qaeda to repeat the September 11 suicide plane attacks.
On December 28, the British government warned that an extremist attack could be in the final stages of preparation in Saudi Arabia and advised British nationals not to travel to the oil-rich kingdom.
This was the third serious accident involving an Egyptian plane in the last several years.
On May 7, 2002, an EgyptAir flight crashed outside Tunis, killing 14 people and injuring 48 others, Tunisian officials said.
Investigators said the possible causes of the crash were human error, a technical fault or bad weather, though EgyptAir insisted it was caused by bad weather.
On October 31, 1999, an EgyptAir flight crashed off the US Atlantic coast, killing all 217 people on board.
The Egyptian authorities deny US assertions that the crash was deliberately caused by the co-pilot.