Egypt says Russian aircraft crashes in Sinai

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s Ministry of Civil Aviation said a Russian aircraft carrying 217 passengers and seven crew members crashed Saturday in the restive Sinai peninsula.

The statement said search and rescue teams found the wreckage of the Russian passenger jet in the Hassana area south of the restive city of el-Arish, where Egyptian security forces are fighting a burgeoning Islamic militant insurgency.

It said the plane the plane took off from Sinai’s Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular destination for Russian tourists, and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes after takeoff.

The aircraft took off at 5:51 a.m. local time bound for St. Petersburg in Russia, the statement said. Earlier in the day, an Egyptian official with the government’s Incidents Committee told local media that the plane had briefly lost contact but was now safely in Turkish airspace.

Plane tracking website Flight Radar said Metrojet flight #7K9268 disappeared over Egypt 23 minutes after departure from Sharm el-Sheikh.

A Cyprus Civil Aviation official says Cairo air traffic control notified Cypriot authorities that they had lost contact with a Russian aircraft early Wednesday. The official, who spoke on contrition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to discuss the matter, said the aircraft’s last contact was with Egyptian Authorities before disappearing. He said the aircraft did not make contact with Cypriot authorities.

Turkish government spokesmen said they had no information about the missing Russian plane ever entering Turkish airspace. Air traffic control officials said they were not authorized to speak to the press. Officials from the Transport Ministry and the Civilian Air Transport Authority did not answer calls.

Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency said Prime Minister Sherif Ismail had canceled a visit to the city of Ismailiya and formed an operations room to follow up on the situation.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Facebook page that Russian Embassy personnel in Egypt are working to clarify the situation.