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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 January, 2004, 01:44 GMT
Search for Red Sea crash bodies
A rescue team member approaches a piece of debris from the Flash Air passenger plane
Egyptian and French rescuers are taking part in the search
The hunt for bodies from the Egyptian charter plane that crashed over the Red Sea on Saturday, killing 148 people, has continued through the night.

A flotilla of Egyptian boats involved in the search off the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh will soon be joined by a French navy frigate.

The Boeing 737 is thought to be at least 1,000 metres beneath the sea.

Meanwhile Egypt says increasing evidence points to technical failure as the cause of the crash.

'Not terrorism'

Eyewitnesses saw the plane hit the water intact, according to Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

This appears to confirm that the jet was not blown up in mid-air by a terrorist bomb.

Mr Shafiq said the Boeing 737 had climbed to more than a 1,000 metres (3,000 feet), veered off course and plunged within seconds into the Red Sea.

There was no distress call from the plane to the control tower.

A terrorist attack on Egyptian soil would be devastating to the country's tourist industry, says the BBC's Paul Wood in Cairo.

Tourism is Egypt's main foreign currency earner, producing about $4bn a year and accounting for 11% of GDP.

But French anti-terrorism officials said they did not expect to carry out an investigation.

"We strongly believe this was an accident and nothing indicates another cause," French Transport Minister Gilles de Robien said.

Several bodies have been taken out of the sea so far.

Angry relatives

The French have sent a minister to oversee the repatriation of the bodies that are brought to the surface.

Two people leaving the psychological unit set up in an hotel near Roissy Charles de Gaulle, Paris
Working in Sharm el-Sheikh, we are all shocked by this accident
Tom Lund, Egypt/Norway

Whole families are said to have perished while many children are among the dead.

Sharm el-Sheikh's hospital is the focus of anger as relatives of the aircraft's Egyptian crew demand to see the remains of their loved ones.

"They tell us there are only pieces of flesh placed inside and that we will not be able to identify anyone," one of the relatives, Hatem al-Qaliubi told AFP news agency.

The emergency services were alerted when the plane disappeared from radar screens shortly after take-off early on Saturday.

There were 135 passengers - 133 French, one Moroccan and one Japanese - and 13 Egyptian crew members on the flight, which was on its way to Cairo for a stopover and crew change before heading on to Paris.

Private Egyptian charter airline
Operates two Boeing 737-300s - both manufactured in 1993
Planes equipped with the latest navigational instruments, company says
Pilots have minimum of 5,000 hours flying time, company says
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin visited the distraught relatives.

"I am personally overwhelmed by this tragedy and the whole nation is touched by this dramatic accident," said Mr Raffarin.

The crash comes amid increased alerts about possible terrorist threats that have led to tightened security and cancelled flights around the world.

Sharm el-Sheikh is a popular Red Sea tourist resort that also often plays host to political and economic summits.

The plane belonged to the charter company Flash Airlines.

The aircraft was only 10 years old, was regularly serviced in Norway, and captained by a pilot with more than 5,000 hours of flying experience.

The BBC's Paul Wood reports from Cairo
"The search operation continued through the hours of darkness"

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt reports from Paris
"For French families, anguish and uncertainty"

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Country Profile: Egypt
08 Sep 03  |  Country profiles

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