Crews search for jet's voice, data recorders

Egypt denies that Swiss banned charter company

January 05, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt - Military boats hovered on the horizon and salvage crews searched for body parts and wreckage yesterday as residents and vacationers of this beach resort expressed a muted sense of relief that the plane crash Saturday that killed 148 people was probably caused by a power failure rather than terrorism.

"It was an accident. Accidents happen everywhere," said Laura Antinucci, an Italian tourist visiting this resort.

Officials still weren't certain why the chartered Boeing 737 plunged into the Red Sea a few minutes after takeoff Saturday. Most of the victims were French tourists headed back to Paris after vacationing at this Sinai resort; a Moroccan, a Japanese and 13 Egyptian crew members also were among the victims.

Investigators continued to scour the sea for the flight data and voice recorders that could help piece together the plane's final minutes. France announced that it would send a robot to help navigate the deep, shark-infested waters.

"There was no explosion before the crash, no one has claimed responsibility for [an] attack," French Transport Minister Gilles de Robien told French radio Europe 1. "The arguments most commonly set out show that it was simply a loss of power."

The Egyptian charter airline that owned and operated the crashed plane had been banned from Swiss airspace for more than a year, a Swiss official told reporters yesterday. Egyptian Flash Airlines failed safety inspections, Swiss aviation spokeswoman Celestine Perissinotto said.

Egyptian officials said the plane had checked out, and they denied the Swiss claims. "If they have any proof, they have to submit it," Egyptian Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafeeq said.

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