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Egyptian Airliner Plunges Into Red Sea; 148 Dead - 2004-01-03


A chartered Egyptian passenger plane has crashed into the Red Sea, killing all 148 people on board.

The plane went down moments after taking off from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh early today (Saturday). Egyptian authorities say the control tower did not receive a distress call, but there are reports the plane had difficulty and tried to turn back before it crashed.

The Paris-bound Boeing 737 jetliner was carrying 135 mostly French passengers and a crew of 13. A French official confirmed there were children among the victims.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher ruled out the possibility of terrorism, and the Civil Aviation Ministry said the crash was apparently caused by a technical fault.

But in Paris, Justice Minister Dominique Perben said he has asked French prosecutors to open a judicial inquiry for manslaughter.

Senior French transportation officials have been sent to Egypt, while others are at Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris, where a crisis center has been set up to counsel crash victims' relatives.

In Egypt, military helicopters and rescue and recovery teams continue to search the Red Sea. Officials say some bodies and wreckage have been found.

The flight, operated by the Egyptian company Flash Air disappeared from radar moments after takeoff (shortly before five o'clock this morning, local time). It crashed into the Red Sea just 11 kilometers from (the waterfront airport at) Sharm el-Sheikh, on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.

Sharm el-Sheikh is a popular destination for tourists, and the Red Sea port also frequently hosts international political and economic meetings. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been vacationing in Sharm el-Sheikh, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was scheduled to meet Mr. Blair at the resort today.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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