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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 January, 2004, 21:07 GMT
Egypt plane crash claims 148 lives
Pieces of debris being taken out at the crash site
Deep water at the crash site is making recovery work difficult
An Egyptian charter plane has crashed into the Red Sea, killing all 148 passengers and crew on board.

It went down shortly after leaving the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Most of the passengers were French tourists, including many children, returning from holiday to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

French and Egyptian officials have said they believe the crash was caused by technical failure, developed minutes after the plane took off.

Scarred lives

The emergency services were alerted when the plane, a Boeing 737 belonging to Egyptian charter company Flash Airlines, disappeared from radar screens shortly after take-off at 0244 GMT.

Egyptian Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafiq said a technical problem had developed - the plane had taken off and gained altitude normally, but then had swerved and plunged into the sea.

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

Egyptian search and rescue teams - in boats, planes and helicopters - have found wreckage in the sea off the Naama Bay area of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Several bodies have been taken out so far.

The plane came down in very deep water, perhaps too deep to recover either the majority of the dead or the black box flight recorder, reports the BBC's Paul Wood in Cairo.

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.

Many of those on board were children and included one family of seven.

In Paris, the authorities at Charles de Gaulle airport have taken relatives of the victims to a nearby hotel for counselling and medical treatment for shock.

Distraught relatives rushed to the airline's main office in Cairo
Working in Sharm el-Sheikh, we are all shocked by this accident
Tom Lund, Egypt/Norway

Most had already heard about the crash on the news, but a handful still turned up expecting to greet family members returning from their holidays.

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. We don't know yet what caused the accident, which has taken the lives of those children and entire families coming back from holiday, and scarred their relatives here for life," said Mr Raffarin, visibly shaken.

He said his government would do everything it could to help Egypt find out exactly what went wrong.

Paris has sent a senior minister to co-ordinate with Egyptian authorities and a team of experts is also heading for Sharm el-Sheikh to help with the recovery operation and the investigation.

Popular resort

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

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
But Egyptian authorities moved quickly to quash any suggestion that this was a terrorist attack - and Paris echoed its belief that the crash was "an accident".

A terrorist attack on Egyptian soil would be devastating to the country's tourist industry, says our correspondent.

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

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

The Flash Airlines 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
"A tragedy for France and Egypt"

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

In pictures: Egypt plane crash
03 Jan 04  |  In Pictures
Egyptian plane crash: Your reaction
03 Jan 04  |  Have Your Say
Air disaster timeline
03 Jan 04  |  In Depth
Country Profile: Egypt
08 Sep 03  |  Country profiles

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