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No survivors likely in Red Sea air disaster

A search and rescue team removes debris from the sea.
A search and rescue team removes debris from the sea.

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Egyptian charter plane crashes in the Red Sea.
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Flash Airlines
Air and Space Accidents

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (CNN) -- Officials said they expected to find no survivors among the 148 people who were aboard a charter plane that crashed Saturday in the deep waters of the Red Sea off the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Flash Airlines plane has just taken off from the resort, bound for Cairo and then to Paris. The French Foreign Ministry said the dead included 133 French nationals.

French Deputy Foreign Minister Renaud Muselier flew to Sharm el-Sheikh to meet with victims' families and Egyptian authorities. French terrorism investigators said they were not planning to open an inquiry.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Mohamed Shafiq Zaki denied any terrorist involvement, saying the crash appeared to have resulted from a technical problem.

In a news conference carried live by Egyptian television, Maher called the crash a "tragic accident."

Officials said the Boeing 737 took off at 4:45 a.m. Saturday (9:45 p.m. Friday ET), climbed to 5,000 feet, turned left as planned and then changed course before plunging into the sea -- with no word from the pilot.

French Transport Secretary Dominique Bussereau said the plane apparently tried to turn back toward Sharm el-Sheikh shortly before it went down. It vanished from radar five minutes after taking off.

Witnesses said they heard a loud explosion.

Amr Aboulfath, chairman of the South Sinai Association for Diving and Marine Activities, said the aircraft went down in an area of the Red Sea over the Syrian-African rift, a deep 75 million-year-old crack in the Earth.

He said the bulk of the wreckage settled at a depth of 800 to 1,000 meters (2,600 to 3,300 feet), which has made diving difficult.

Fath said his organization was on the scene by about 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. and had been working all day with assistance from the Egyptian military.

Divers and searchers aboard more than 40 boats scoured the debris field for survivors about eight miles (11 km) south of the seaside airport.

Participants in the collaborative effort between the Egyptian military and local divers reported finding only small pieces of the plane, luggage and body parts.

France will cooperate with Egyptian authorities in the investigation into the cause of the crash, and the French Ministry of Aviation will help transport bodies back to France and retrieve the remains of the plane, Maher said.

In Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a representative to assist in the investigation at the request of the Egyptian government.

A shoe floats among the wreckage.

In Paris, distraught family members arrived at a crisis center set up at a hotel near Charles de Gaulle Airport, where the plane was scheduled to land around 9 a.m. (3 a.m. ET). (Full story)

The Egyptian charter airline is based in Cairo and operated two Boeing 737-300s, both made in 1993. It is part of Flash Group, which offers vacation packages across Egypt.

"Safety and reliability are the motto of the company," its Web site said. "Each flight will be an enjoyable journey."

Each of its planes was insured for $550 million by El Shark Insurance Co., based in Egypt, it said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his family are vacationing in Sharm el-Sheikh, according to a 10 Downing Street spokesman.

CNN's Sandy Petrykowski in Sharm el-Sheikh, Jim Bittermann in Paris, and CNN Radio's Ninette Sosa contributed to this report.

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