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224 die as Russian airliner crashes in Egypt

CAIRO - A Russian airliner carrying more than 200 passengers crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Saturday morning, Egypt’s government and Russia’s Federal Aviation Agency said. No one survived the crash, the Russian Embassy in Egypt said.

Egyptian military planes first spotted the wreckage in a mountainous area in the central part of Sinai, about 180 miles east of Cairo, Egypt’s cabinet said in a statement Saturday. Civil Aviation Minister Mohamed Hossam Kamel said the cause of the crash had not been determined, according to the statement.

The passenger jet “disappeared” over Sinai shortly after takeoff, the Russian aviation agency said. Egyptian authorities said the plane was in the air for about 25 minutes and had reached 31,000 feet before it went down just after sunrise.

The Airbus A320 was carrying 217 passengers and seven crew members, and had taken off from the airport at Egypt’s Red Sea resort at Sharm al-Sheikh. The plane was bound for St. Petersburg, according to a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Civil Aviation carried by the official state news agency.

Fifteen bodies had been recovered and were being airlifted to Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo. According to the cabinet, the passengers included three Ukrainian nationals, 138 women, 62 men and 17 children.

Egypt’s prime minister’s office said it was forming an emergency crisis cell to “follow up on the situation.” An employee of the ministry reached by telephone said there was an order not to respond to inquiries from journalists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “his deepest condolences” to the families of those who died in the crash, the Kremlin press service reported.

Putin ordered that Russian rescue workers be sent to the site of the crash and that a government commission to review the crash be established in Moscow.

Russian tourists flock to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula every year, where temperatures remain warm throughout the winter. Tourism is one of Egypt’s main sources of foreign currency, but the industry has suffered from political violence and turmoil in the wake of the Arab Spring. Earlier this year, Egyptian Tourism Minister Khaled Abbas Rami said about 3 million Russian tourists traveled to Egypt in 2014, mostly to visit resorts along the Red Sea.

The Russian charter flight crashed in the area of al-Hasana, south of the North Sinai city of al-Arish, Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency said. The usual duration for the flight is 4 hours 42 minutes, authorities said.

North Sinai is rife with militancy, including a homegrown affiliate of the Islamic State. But there was no immediate indication that the plane had been shot down by militants, security officials told the Reuters news agency.