Robot sub used in Red Sea search
A French robot submarine has now joined the search in the Red Sea.
Recovery crafts continue to search the Red Sea site of an air charter crash, and mourners drop flowers into the water. (January 4)
Egyptian charter plane crashes in the Red Sea.
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (CNN) -- A robotic submarine from the French navy is scouring the waters of the Red Sea, looking for debris and bodies at the site of a weekend charter plane crash that killed 148 people.
Most of the passengers were French tourists on their way home from the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Investigators were encouraged by the discovery of some debris at a much more shallow level -- 400 meters (1,312 feet) -- than previously thought. The plane went down very near an ancient fault line called the Syrian-African rift with depths at that location as deep as 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).
Divers can handle the more shallow depth, but the submarine would be necessary if any of the wreckage fell into the fault.
Through Sunday, recovery teams working off the coast of Sharm el-Sheikh had found dozens of body parts and were searching for more as well as for the flight data recorders, French Deputy Foreign Minister Renaud de Muselier said.
In addition to the submarine, France has sent several military airplanes and a military ship from Djibouti with personnel to help in the recovery efforts, he said. De Muselier was ferried to the recovery site, where he tossed flowers over the water to honor the victims.
The Flash Airlines plane had been slated to fly to Cairo and then on to Paris. The Boeing 737 crashed early Saturday a few minutes after takeoff.
The crash appeared to have resulted from a technical problem, and there was no indication of terrorist involvement, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq said.
In a news conference, Maher called the crash a "tragic accident."
But de Muselier did not rule out the possibility of "criminal activity."
"We have no objective reason to think it was a criminal act," he said. "We have technical and visual information from witnesses that make us think it was an accident. But now we have to find out why."
The jet's cockpit voice and data recorders have to be found for investigators to get a clearer picture, he said. French terrorism investigators said they were not planning to open an inquiry.
The French Foreign Ministry said the dead included 133 French nationals. Other relatives in France are expected to arrive in the Egyptian town later in the week on an aircraft provided by the French government.
Officials said the aircraft 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 during the 17-second fall.
French Transport Secretary Dominique Bussereau said the plane apparently tried to turn back toward Sharm el-Sheikh shortly before it went down.
Egypt's Shafiq agreed. "Just two minutes or let us say three minutes after takeoff, we imagine that the pilot has discovered something which is abnormal in the control and the serviceability of the aircraft in general, he changed his plan maybe again trying to land again in the same airport," he said.
Witnesses said they heard a loud explosion, but officials said the body parts located so far have indicated the plane broke apart on impact with the water and not from an explosion.
Amr Aboulfath, chairman of the South Sinai Association for Diving, said the bulk of the wreckage settled at a depth of 800 to 1,000 meters (2,600 to 3,300 feet), too deep for scuba divers to reach.
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, said Maher.
In Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board said that, at the request of the Egyptian government, it was sending a representative to assist in the investigation.
The Egyptian charter airline company 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.
Each of its planes was insured for $550 million by El Shark Insurance Company, based in Egypt, it said.
Flash Airlines was banned from flying in Switzerland in 2002 over technical worries, the country's office of aviation said Sunday.
Celestine Perrisinotto, spokeswoman for the Federal Office for Civil Aviation, said "a series of shortcomings showed up" in a Flash Airlines plane during a check in October 2002.
"They didn't fill the international norms in matter of aviation safety," Perrisinotto told CNN. She said she could not describe the shortcomings but added, "What I can tell you is that we informed at that time the company about our decision, but we also informed the Egyptian authorities about our decision."
Egyptian officials were given a list of the shortcomings, and the airline did not seek to re-enter Switzerland, she said. The Swiss news agency Swissinfo quoted Perrisinotto saying that Flash never responded to the Swiss concerns, and she could not offer details of the problems Swiss authorities found.
In response, Egyptian civil aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq said the Swiss statement was inaccurate and baseless.
Shafiq said he wanted to see documents proving what the Swiss official said was true. And he said Egypt has documents stating that Flash Airline's planes were safe.
A man who answered the phone at Flash Airlines said no one from the company would have any comment before Monday.
-- CNN Correspondent Chris Burns contributed to this report