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Search Underway for Cause of Deadly Egyptian Airliner Crash - 2004-01-04

Search and recovery efforts are continuing in Egypt following Saturday's crash of a chartered plane in the Red Sea that killed all 148 people on board the aircraft.

French experts are in the Egyptian resort, Sharm el-Sheikh, using special equipment to track down the sunken flight data recorder of the Egyptian Boeing 737 that crashed into the Red Sea early Saturday morning.

The chartered Paris-bound aircraft plummeted into the sea shortly after take-off. Egyptian and French officials say the 11-year-old plane experienced mechanical problems and crashed after apparently attempting to return to the airport.

All 148 people, including 133 French tourists, a Moroccan, a Japanese and the Egyptian flight crew were killed. The French tourists were in Egypt for the New Year holiday.

Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafik said the investigation so far suggests a mechanical failure caused the plane to crash.

Mr. Shafik said while investigators at this time cannot rule out the possibility of a deliberate act causing the plane to crash, he said radar information suggests the plane experienced a technical problem that prevented the pilots from controlling the aircraft. He said radar information does not suggest an act of terror.

Search crews Saturday were only able to recover small pieces of the plane's wreckage. The plane went down in water that is as much as one thousand meters deep.

Aircraft and navy vessels from the Egyptian military are involved in the search and recovery effort.

Officials from the Boeing company are dispatching of team of investigators to Egypt to begin their own inquiry. U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and American Federal Aviation Administration officials are also investigating the crash.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his family were on vacation in the Red Seat resort when the crash occurred. Mr. Blair met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Saturday in Sharm el-Sheikh. A spokesman for Mr. Mubarak said the two discussed the Middle East peace process and the Iraq.

The last major Egyptian airline crash occurred in May of 2002 when an Egypt Air Boeing 767 crashed near Tunis airport.