Twelve entire families named among Red Sea crash victims as Swiss reveal airline safety fears

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Twelve French families, including 11 people from three generations of one family from Burgundy, were wiped out in Saturday's Egyptian air disaster. As Switzerland revealed it had banned the charter airline involved for "safety reasons", France began to absorb the terrible human cost of the catastrophe which overtook flight FSH 605, minutes after take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh.

A provisional list of passengers and crew suggests the 148 victims included the parents and children from 12 French families. A family of six from Normandy, a family of five from the southern Paris suburbs and the mayor of a small village in Normandy, his wife and three children are believed to be among the victims. Eleven members of three generations of a family from Dijon in Burgundy are also thought to have died.

There were also many married couples among the holidaymakers returning from a winter break on the Red Sea coast, including a pair of eminent doctors from the Paris suburbs, who were personal friends of the French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy. The Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, has declared France officially in mourning.

The possibility that the Flash Airlines Boeing 737-300, built in 1993, was destroyed by a terrorist attack had not been discounted yesterday but Egyptian and French authorities said some kind of mechanical fault was the most likely cause.

There was consternation in Egypt and France when the Swiss authorities announced yesterday that the small, Egyptian charter company, which operated only two aircraft, had been banned from Swiss airspace 14 months ago for safety reasons. "A series of safety shortcomings showed up in a plane of Flash Airlines during a routine security check at Zurich airport in October 2002," said Celestine Perissinotto, spokeswoman for the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation.

French aviation authorities and the tour company which chartered the aircraft said they knew nothing of the Swiss ban, which should normally have been communicated to other countries. The Egyptian government said the accusations were "baseless". Flash Airlines insisted the problem with Switzerland had been about money, not safety.

France sent a robot submarine to the Red Sea yesterday - to be followed by a frigate and other naval vessels - as efforts continued to locate the wreckage of the aircraft in a deep sea trench between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Only a few pieces of dismembered bodies have been found by the military and civilian boats patrolling the crash scene. The aircraft, bound for Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, via Cairo, is believed to have disintegrated on impact with the water after attempting to turn first to the left, then to the right, minutes after take-off. Egyptian officials said they believed the fuselage might be intact under 2,500 feet of water but it had not yet been located.

There were 133 French tourists on the flight, one Japanese, one Moroccan and 13 Egyptian crew members. The southern part of the Red Sea is infested with sharks and other carnivorous fish. Egyptian officials said many of the bodies might never be found.

The French minister of state for foreign affairs, Renaud Muselier, who flew to Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday, was taken to see the human remains yesterday. "We were able to see the bags full of body parts," he said, appearing to try to control tears. "It was terrible to see."

Two identification experts from the French police and gendarmerie were at the scene to try to identify victims from jewellery, dental or medical records. French accident investigators have joined Egyptian police and aviation experts to establish the cause of the crash.

A judicial investigation for "manslaughter" has been launched in France, which is automatic in incidents of this kind. The official casualty list had yet to be established last night but a provisional list, and a series of local announcements by bereaved communities across France, indicated the scale of the calamity.

Officials in Dijon said the victims included a retired lawyer, his wife and nine of their children and grandchildren, from the suburb of Talant. The names of the family were not immediately released.

A family of six - father, mother and four children aged 15 to 19 - from the village of Préaux-du-Perche in the Orne, in lower Normandy, were also killed. The couple ran a fish farm. Their names were also being withheld.

Another small community, in Normandy - Formigny, near Caen - was mourning the loss of its mayor, Michel Lamy, 41, his wife and their three young children. Local people said M. Lamy, a farmer, had taken advantage of the cheap prices on offer to give his family a New Year holiday by the Red Sea.

A village councillor described the Lamys as "ordinary people, who rarely take much of a holiday. This was an opportunity of a lifetime".

A family of five, from Palaiseau in the southern Paris suburbs, was also among the victims. Eric Vialet, an engineer, his wife Valérie and their children Pauline, 12, and eight-year-old twins, Antoine and Laura, had been on a one week holiday in Egypt.

The provisional list of victims suggested that five other families, with one, two or three, children each, were on board the doomed aircraft.

Among the dead were two eminent doctors, Yvon Chotard, 52, a heart specialist in Neuilly, west of Paris, and his wife, Pascale, 53, head of preventative medicine in Neuilly and Courbevoie.

The couple, who were friends of M. Sarkozy, a former mayor of Neuilly, leave two sons, aged 24 and 21.