UPDATE: 5:12 a.m. EST -- Families of 10 victims, who died in the Saturday’s plane crash in Sinai, Egypt, identified their bodies, Russian officials said, according to the Associated Press (AP). The Russian Metrojet plane, an Airbus A321-200, was traveling from Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg when it crashed, killing all 224 people on board.
Alexei Smirnov from the Russian emergency situations ministry, said, according to AP, that the officials in St. Petersburg, Russia, have so far received 140 bodies and over 100 body parts transported in two government planes on Monday and Tuesday. A third plane was expected to reach the city later Tuesday with more remains.
The bodies of nine victims, who died after a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt's Sinai, have been identified, a report from the Associated Press (AP) said, citing a government official from St. Petersburg, Russia. The Metrojet flight 7K9268 was flying at an altitude of 31,000 feet from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt to the Russian city of St. Petersburg, when it crashed in Sinai Saturday, killing all the 224 people on board.
Deputy Governor of St. Petersburg Igor Albin said, according to AP, which cited local news reports, that the families of the nine victims identified their bodies.
The U.S Embassy in Cairo directed its staff late Monday not to travel to Sinai Peninsula as a "precautionary measure," AP reported. The embassy also said that it will issue another message after the security measure was lifted.
Meanwhile, a U.S. infrared satellite had discovered a heat flash over Sinai, Egypt, around the same time the Russian plane crashed Saturday, CBS News reported Monday. The report added that the data from the satellite is currently being analyzed, but the heat wave could have been caused by anything from a bomb on the plane to an explosion in the fuel tank or engine due to mechanical failure.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said that the claims by the Islamic State group (ISIS) of bringing down the Airbus A321-200, owned by Russian airliner Kogalymavia, are "propaganda." Kogalymavia, which owns the Metrojet fleet, blamed "external influence" for the crash, denying any failure of equipment or an error from the crew. However, Sisi seconded the opinions of Aleksandr Neradko, the head of Russia's Federal Aviation Agency, to say that the claims from the airliner were premature. The cause of the crash is currently being investigated.
"All those interested in the matter are welcome to participate in the investigation,” Sisi told BBC, adding: "When there is propaganda that it crashed because of ISIS, this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt. Believe me, the situation in Sinai - especially in this limited area - is under our full control."
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Monday that there was no "direct evidence of any terrorist involvement yet." However, he added that such an involvement cannot be ruled out.
Sinai Province, the ISIS affiliate in Egypt, released a written and audio statement Saturday claiming that they had shot down the plane in retaliation to Russian airstrikes in Syria. However, experts say that the group does not have weapons to bring down a passenger plane flying at an altitude of 31,000 feet.
So far, the plane’s "black box" recorders have been found and sent for analysis and officials have transported bodies of 144 victims to St Petersburg. According to Neradko, the wide area covered by debris from the plane, suggested that the plane had broken up at high altitude.
On Tuesday, Russia's national carrier Aeroflot replaced A321 plane on Moscow-St Petersburg route due to technical issues, Reuters reported, citing local news reports.
While some experts blame possible damage from a 2001 accident, when the Metrojet plane’s tail touched a runway in Cairo during landing, others pointed to a possibility of a bomb on board, CBS News reported. The airliner said that the plane had undergone factory repairs after the 2001 incident.
Aviation safety consultant John Cox said, according to AP, that such accidents could have caused severe damage to the plane’s skin. He added that the damage cannot be spotted by monthly maintenance checks because the cracks are inside the plane parts, which cannot be seen easily during visual inspections. Cox said that they can be seen only during heavy maintenance checks, which happen every four-to-five years and during which the plane’s parts are disassembled.
"That's a very complex repair and it requires very special expertise," Cox said, according to AP, adding that the investigators will "look not only at whether the repair done properly, but were the inspections of the repair done on a regular basis during the normal heavy maintenance checks." The report added that if the damage from the tail strike existed, it would have been in the form of small cracks, which become bigger with repeated pressurization and depressurization.
British military analyst Paul Beaver said, according to AP, that he believed the crash was caused due to a bomb on the plane and that the ISIS has not been known to possess surface-to-air missile systems that could strike passenger planes at such high altitudes. Robert Galan, a French aviation expert also said that the company’s claim hinted only at two possibilities -- a bomb or sabotage.
"Either a bomb was placed during the stopover and programmed to explode after takeoff, or a mechanic sabotaged the plane," Galan said, according to AP, adding: "These are the two most probable hypotheses."