Lufthansa, Air France–KLM and Emirates are among the airlines that have suspended their flights over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula after Islamic State claimed responsibility for the crash of a Russian plane in the region, which killed all 224 onboard, including 25 children. Moscow has refuted IS' role.
The three airlines have announced their planes will not fly over the Sinai Peninsula until the investigation on the Kogalymavia/Metrojet Flight 9268, an Airbus 321 which crashed early Saturday, is over.
"We took the decision to avoid the area because the situation and the reasons for the crash were not clear," Reuters quoted a Lufthansa spokeswoman as saying.
The Russian plane went down 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh, a popular Red Sea resort, on Saturday. The flight took off at 5:51 a.m. for St. Petersburg, and was cruising at 31,000 feet when it lost contact, according to Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry.
"In light of appropriate precautions displayed in the MH17 incident it makes sense now for airlines to display an abundance of caution," Bloomberg quoted Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, New York, as saying. "But I'm not aware of anything suggesting a ground-to-air missile."
In July 2014, the crash of Flight MH17, operated by Malaysian Airlines, killed 298 people after a missile was launched from rebel-held territory over eastern Ukraine.
After the crash of the Russian plane on Saturday, a local militant group affiliated with Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility for downing the Russian plane on Twitter. "The fighters of the Islamic State were able to down a Russian plane over Sinai province that was carrying over 220 Russian crusaders," the tweet said. "They were all killed, thanks be to God."
Russia recently got involved in the Syrian conflict by bombing rebels and IS terrorists to strengthen the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
However, Natalya Trukhacheva, the wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukachev, told the State-controlled Russian channel NTV that their daughter spoke to him on the phone before he flew out and he complained about the technical condition of the aircraft.
A high-ranking Egyptian military intelligence official told BuzzFeed News that it was "ridiculous" to believe IS. "The plane was flying at an altitude of 31,000 feet, out of the range of any weapons on the ground," he was quoted as saying.
Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov also said the claim "cannot be considered reliable," Russia's Interfax news reported.
The Guardian quoted a north Sinai security source as saying that a technical fault likely led to the crash, and that the plane landed in a "vertical fashion."
The plane was "completely destroyed," and many passengers had died strapped in to their seats, according to Reuters.
"The plane split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rock. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside," the Sinai security officer was quoted as saying.
According to the Russian embassy in Cairo, the pilot tried to make an emergency landing at El-Arish.