Black box from airliner that crashed killing 148 cannot be recovered

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The Independent Online

One of the black-box flight data recorders from the Flash Airlines jet that crashed in the Red Sea in Egypt on Saturday has been located. But the water is too deep for it to be retrieved, French officials said yesterday.

Rear Admiral Jacques Mazars said that more advanced equipment was needed to retrieve the box, which was believed to be about 800m below the sea's surface.

The plane - an 11-year-old Boeing 737 - crashed into the sea shortly after take-off, killing all 148 people on board. Most of the dead were French tourists. Egypt quickly ruled out the possibility of a terrorist attack, saying that the crash was caused by a mechanical failure.

The US State Department said that four people with dual US-Egyptian citizenship were on the flight bound for Paris via Cairo. The US Embassy in Cairo declined to name them.

Michel Wachenheim, head of the French Civil Aviation Authority, said: "We cannot exclude either an accident or a criminal cause." The French Deputy Foreign Minister, Renaud Muselier, said the bodies recovered so far had not shown any burns, suggesting that there was no explosion.

The Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, said yesterday that he would not "speculate about what happened on the plane that crashed. But I don't think it was a terrorist act because there's no possibility for that in Sharm el-Sheikh or anywhere else in Egypt," Mr Mubarak said. Since the jet was US-made, the United States has sent a team of investigators, including experts from Boeing. France has sent equipment including a military surveillance plane that has been looking for debris and flew in forensics experts hoping to identify bodies.

Relatives of the victims were due to arrive in Sharm el-Sheikh today for memorial services. The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, is also expected to attend.

The aircraft was one of two Boeing 737s operated by Flash. The Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation said it detected safety problems with both aircraft in 2002 and banned Flash from flying into Switzerland for more than a year. The Flash chairman, Mohamed Nour, said his company made the necessary improvements and later passed a Swiss inspection - but the Swiss denied this.

In 2003, Switzerland informed France of its concerns. The authorities there carried out checks and obtained satisfactory results, said the French Transport Minister, Gilles de Robien.

The Egyptian El-Sharq Insurance company, which covered Flash Airlines, said in a statement that it intended to pay full compensation to victims' families but first must settle matters with re-insurers, according to the Middle East News Agency. The company said each family was entitled to $350,000 (£192,000).

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