Russian airliner with 224 aboard crashes in Egypt's Sinai, all killed

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Russian Plane Crashes in Egypt With 224 on Board

A Russian airliner carrying 224 passengers crashed into a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai peninsula on Saturday shortly after losing radar contact near cruising altitude, killing all aboard.

A militant group affiliated to Islamic State in Egypt, Sinai Province, said in a statement it had brought down the plane "in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land", but Russia's Transport Minister told Interfax news agency the claim "can't be considered accurate".

The Airbus A321, operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia under the brand name Metrojet, was flying from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg in Russia when it went down in central Sinai soon after daybreak, the aviation ministry said.

See the reaction as the news reaches Russia:

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Russia mourns victims of plane crash in Egypt
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Russian airliner with 224 aboard crashes in Egypt's Sinai, all killed
A man looks at candles and flowers in Simferopol on November 1, 2015 in memory of the victims of a jetliner crash. Russia mourned its biggest ever air disaster after a passenger jet full of Russian tourists crashed in Egypt's Sinai, killing all 224 people on board. A Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt broke up 'in the air', an investigator said on November 1, as the bodies of many of the 224 people killed on board were flown home. AFP PHOTO / MAX VETROV (Photo credit should read MAX VETROV/AFP/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 1: People mourn the victims of Airbus A321 crash at the Palace Square on November 1, 2015 in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 31. According to Egypt's Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. (Photo by Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)
A woman reacts in central Saint Petersburg on November 1, 2015, as people gather to light candles in memory of the victims of a jetliner crash. Flags flew at half-mast in Russia on November 1 as the country mourned its worst air disaster after a jetliner full of Russian tourists crashed in Egypt, killing all 224 on board. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
SAINT-PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 1: Russian people lay flowers, toys and light candles to memory of Russian plane accident in Egypt on October 31, at Dvortsovaya square in Saint-Petersburg, Russia on November 1, 2015. (Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Women look at candles and flowers in Simferopol on November 1, 2015 in memory of the victims of a jetliner crash. Russia mourned its biggest ever air disaster after a passenger jet full of Russian tourists crashed in Egypt's Sinai, killing all 224 people on board. A Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt broke up 'in the air', an investigator said on November 1, as the bodies of many of the 224 people killed on board were flown home. AFP PHOTO / MAX VETROV (Photo credit should read MAX VETROV/AFP/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 01: A woman holds a candle at a memorial for the victims of Airbus A321 crash at the Pulkovo Airport on November 1, 2015 in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 31. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. (Photo by Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 01: A woman cries near a 'memorial' to the victims of the Airbus A321 crash at the Pulkovo Airport on November 1, 2015 in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. (Photo by Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 01: People mourn the victims of Airbus A321 crash at Pulkovo Airport on November 1, 2015 in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. (Photo by Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 01: Candles, toys and flowers are seen at the 'memorial' of the victims of the Airbus A321 crash at the Pulkovo Airport on November 1, 2015 in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. (Photo by Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 01: People mourn the victims of Airbus A321 crash at Pulkovo Airport on November 1, 2015 in St. Petersburg, Russia. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg. (Photo by Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)
Relatives react at Pulkovo international airport outside Saint Petersburg after a Russian plane with 224 people on board crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015. Ambulances reached the site and began evacuating 'casualties,' officials and state media reported, without elaborating on their condition. The plane took off early in the morning from the southern Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for Saint Petersburg in Russia but communication was lost 23 minutes after departure, officials said. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives react at Pulkovo international airport outside Saint Petersburg after a Russian plane with 224 people on board crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015. Ambulances reached the site and began evacuating 'casualties,' officials and state media reported, without elaborating on their condition. The plane took off early in the morning from the southern Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for Saint Petersburg in Russia but communication was lost 23 minutes after departure, officials said. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 31: Relatives of passengers of Russian Airbus-321 aircraft react at Pulkovo international airport in Saint Petersburg, Russia on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Relatives react at Pulkovo international airport outside Saint Petersburg after a Russian plane with 224 people on board crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015. Ambulances reached the site and began evacuating 'casualties,' officials and state media reported, without elaborating on their condition. The plane took off early in the morning from the southern Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for Saint Petersburg in Russia but communication was lost 23 minutes after departure, officials said. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative reacts at Pulkovo international airport outside St Petersburg after an Airbus A321 of Russian airline Kogalymavia with 224 people on board crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015. Egypt has recovered the black box of the Russian airliner that crashed on October 31 in the restive Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board, the prime minister's office said. The plane took off early in the morning from the southern Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for Saint Petersburg in Russia but communication was lost 23 minutes after departure. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative reacts at Pulkovo international airport outside Saint Petersburg after a Russian plane with 224 people on board crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015. Ambulances reached the site and began evacuating 'casualties,' officials and state media reported, without elaborating on their condition. The plane took off early in the morning from the southern Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for Saint Petersburg in Russia but communication was lost 23 minutes after departure, officials said. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 31: A relative of passengers of Russian Airbus-321 aircraft reacts at Pulkovo international airport in Saint Petersburg, Russia on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 31: Relatives of passengers of Russian Airbus-321 aircraft react at Pulkovo international airport in Saint Petersburg, Russia on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Relatives wait for information at Pulkovo international airport outside Saint Petersburg after a Russian plane with 224 people on board crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015. Ambulances reached the site and began evacuating 'casualties,' officials and state media reported, without elaborating on their condition. The plane took off early in the morning from the southern Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for Saint Petersburg in Russia but communication was lost 23 minutes after departure, officials said. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 31: Relatives of passengers of Russian Airbus-321 aircraft react at Pulkovo international airport in Saint Petersburg, Russia on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Relatives wait at the Pulkovo international airport outside St. Petersburg after a Russian plane with 224 people on board crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015. Ambulances reached the site and began evacuating 'casualties,' officials and state media reported, without elaborating on their condition. The plane took off early in the morning from the southern Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh bound for Saint Petersburg in Russia but communication was lost 23 minutes after departure. AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 31: Relatives of passengers of Russian Airbus-321 aircraft react at Pulkovo international airport in Saint Petersburg, Russia on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 aircraft with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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"I now see a tragic scene," an Egyptian security officer at the site told Reuters by telephone. "A lot of dead on the ground and many who died whilst strapped to their seats.

"The plane split into two, a small part on the tail end that burned and a larger part that crashed into a rockface. We have extracted at least 100 bodies and the rest are still inside," the officer, who requested anonymity, said.

Both black boxes of the plane had been found, Mohamed Hossam Kemal, the civil aviation minister, told a news conference.

Kemal said communications between the plane and air traffic control before the crash had been normal and that nothing irregular had occurred before the accident.

"The plane did not request a change of route," he said.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also told the news conference that there did not appear to be any unusual activity behind the crash but the facts would not be clear until further investigations had been carried out.

Ismail said 129 bodies had so far been removed and the chances of finding survivors were now near-impossible.

Bodies were being transported to various hospitals with 34 arriving in the Zeinhom morgue in Cairo early in the evening.

Islamic State, in a statement on Twitter, said it had brought down the aircraft.

Sinai is the scene of an insurgency by militants close to Islamic State, who have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police and have also attacked Western targets in recent months. Much of the Sinai is a restricted military zone.

WATCH: Russian plane crash: 'Can't rule hostile action out'

Russian Plane Crash: 'Can't Rule Hostile Action Out'

Militants in the area are not believed to have missiles capable of hitting a plane at 30,000 feet. Islamic State websites have in the past claimed responsibility for actions that have not been conclusively attributed to them.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including Islamic State on Sept. 30.

Two of Europe's largest airlines, Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) and Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA), said they would avoid flying over the Sinai peninsula while awaiting an explanation on the cause of the crash.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised Russia's President Vladimir Putin he would allow Russian experts to join the investigation.

The prime minister said a Russian team would arrive in Egypt later on Saturday night. The country is also preparing to receive the families of the victims.

TELEPHONES RINGING

Putin declared a day of national mourning for Sunday. The passengers included 214 Russians and three Ukrainians.

A middle-aged man in a gray overcoat, who gave his first name as Nayeel, wept as he spoke to reporters as he came out of a hotel near St Petersburg's Pulkovo airport, where a special reception center has been set up for families of the victims.

He said that his wife had been on the plane.

"At six am she sent me a text message saying: I'm boarding. God be with me.' And that was it," he said. The man said the rest of the family had already returned from a holiday in Egypt, but his wife had opted to stay on, which is why she was on the Saturday morning flight.

The A321 is a medium-haul jet in service since 1994, with over 1,100 in operation worldwide and a good safety record. It is a highly automated aircraft relying on computers to help pilots stay within safe flying limits.

Airbus said the A321 was built in 1997 and had been operated by Metrojet since 2012. It had flown 56,000 hours in nearly 21,000 flights and was powered by engines from International Aero Engines consortium, which includes United Technologies unit Pratt & Whitney and Germany's MTU Aero Engines.

Emergency services and aviation specialists searched the wreckage for any clues to the crash. Wreckage was scattered over a wide area.

See the aftermath in Egypt as bodies are removed from the crash site:

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Russian plane crash in Egypt wreckage and aftermath
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Russian airliner with 224 aboard crashes in Egypt's Sinai, all killed
Debris belonging to the A321 Russian airliner are seen at the site of the crash in Wadi el-Zolmat, a mountainous area in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on November 1, 2015. International investigators began probing why a Russian airliner carrying 224 people crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, as rescue workers widened their search for missing victims. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - NOVEMBER 01: A plane part is seen as the Egyptian officials inspect the crash site of Russian Airliner in Suez, Egypt on November 01, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on yesterday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane had been lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Alaa El Kassas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Debris of the A321 Russian airliner lie on the ground a day after the plane crashed in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on November 1, 2015. International investigators began probing why the Russian airliner carrying 224 people crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, as rescue workers widened their search for missing victims. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Debris of the A321 Russian airliner lie on the ground a day after the plane crashed in Wadi al-Zolomat, a mountainous area in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on November 1, 2015. International investigators began probing why the Russian airliner carrying 224 people crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, as rescue workers widened their search for missing victims. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - NOVEMBER 01: Egyptian officials inspect the crash site of Russian Airliner in Suez, Egypt on November 01, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on yesterday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane had been lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Alaa El Kassas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - NOVEMBER 01: Egyptian officials inspect the crash site of Russian Airliner in Suez, Egypt on November 01, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on yesterday. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane had been lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Alaa El Kassas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Ambulances bring the bodies of the victims found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Zinhoum Hospital's Morgue in Cairo, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Ambulances bring the bodies of the victims found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Zinhoum Hospital's Morgue in Cairo, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Ambulances bring the bodies of the victims found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Zinhoum Hospital's Morgue in Cairo, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Ambulances bring the bodies of the victims found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Zinhoum Hospital's Morgue in Cairo, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Egyptian ambulance arrives to Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015, after victims of a Russian airliner that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula were brought to the base before being transported to a morgue. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian paramedics load the corpses of Russian victims of a Russian passenger plane crash in the Sinai Peninsula, into a military plane at Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Egyptian officials receives the corpses of 34 passengers, found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Kabret Military Base in Suez, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Mostafa El Shemy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Egyptian ambulances line up at Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015, after victims of a Russian airliner that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula were brought to the base before being transported to a morgue. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An Egyptian ambulance waits at Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015, after victims of a Russian airliner that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula were brought to the base before being transported to a morgue. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
SUEZ, EGYPT - OCTOBER 31: Egyptian officials receives the corpses of 34 passengers, found at crash site of Russian Airliner, at Kabret Military Base in Suez, Egypt on October 31, 2015. A Russian Airbus-321 airliner with 224 people aboard crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, according to the Egyptian Prime Minister's office. According to Egypts Civil Aviation Authority, the plane lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly after taking off from the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St Petersburg. (Photo by Alaa El Kassas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Egyptian ambulances carrying the corpses of Russian victims of a Russian passenger plane crash in the Sinai Peninsula, off load the bodies into a military aircraft at Kabret military air base by the Suez Canal on October 31, 2015. Egypt's government said 15 bodies have been recovered and transferred to a morgue so far from the site of the crash. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard, next to graffiti condemning police brutality, outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian police officers stand guard outside the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on October 31, 2015, as they wait for the victims of the Russian charter plane. A Russian plane carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board, officials said. AFP PHOTO /MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
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"We are hearing a lot of telephones ringing, most likely belonging to the victims, and security forces are collecting them and putting them into a bag," the security officer at the scene said.

Russia's Investigative Committee said it was checking fuel samples from the aircraft's last refueling stop, in the southern Russian city of Samara, according to RIA news agency. Searches were being carried out at Moscow's Domodedovo airport where the airline that operated the plane is based.

Kogalymavia was founded in 1993, and was earlier called Kolavia. Its fleet consists of two A320s and seven A321s.

Russia and other former Soviet republics have relatively poor safety records, notably on domestic flights.

Some Russian air crashes have been blamed on the use of aging aircraft, but industry experts point to other problems, including poor crew training, crumbling airports, lax government controls and neglect of safety in the pursuit of profits.

The aircraft took off at 5:51 a.m. Cairo time (10:51 p.m. EDT) and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes later, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement. It was at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 meters) when it vanished from radar screens.

Accidents at cruising altitude are one of the rarest categories of accidents but also among the most deadly, accounting for 13 percent of fatal incidents since 2005, according to Boeing.

Investigators would be looking into, among other things, the weather at the time, the pilots' experience, maintenance records, signs of a stall and any evidence of an explosion.

Experts consistently warn air accidents are usually caused by a cocktail of factors, both human and technical.

According to FlightRadar24, an authoritative Sweden-based flight tracking service, the aircraft was descending rapidly at about 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) per minute when the signal was lost to air traffic control.

France's civil aviation safety agency (BEA) said it would send a team to Egypt on Nov. 1 to join investigators from Germany and Russia. The United States Secretary of State John Kerry offered U.S. assistance, if needed, a spokesman said.

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