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Egyptian Airliner Carrying French Tourists Crashes into Sea - 2004-01-03

An Egyptian jetliner carrying 148 people, 135 of them French tourists, crashed into the Red Sea on Saturday shortly after taking off from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. There are no reports of survivors.

Egyptian aviation authorities said preliminary indications were that technical failure caused the crash, ruling out an explosion.

Egyptian aviation officials say the Boeing 737 took off shortly before 5 am but quickly disappeared from radar screens when it was about 11 kilometers south of the airport.

The officials ruled out an explosion, saying the crash appeared to have been an accident and that the charter plane had made no distress calls before vanishing from radar screens.

There were no immediate reports of survivors among the mostly French passengers aboard the jet operated by the private Egyptian company Flash Airlines.

French authorities said the plane had been scheduled to land at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris later in the day.

Egypt's official media reported that bodies of the passengers and crewmembers were being pulled from the Red Sea waters off the coast of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Sharm el-Sheikh is an Egyptian resort in the Sinai Peninsula and is popular among Egyptian and international tourists alike. It frequently hosts major political summits, and local media were reporting on a meeting there Saturday between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Egyptian officials said the weather was clear in Sharm el-Sheikh Saturday and that other flights were taking off normally.

The crash comes amid a week of worldwide concerns that terrorists could be planning new attacks using airliners, along the lines of the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.

One Egyptian Civil Aviation official, Hosni Abu Ghoneima, said the country's air and marine forces had located parts of the Egyptian plane and had retrieved some of the passengers' luggage.

He said the jetliner had arrived at Sharm el-Sheikh early Saturday from Italy and had reloaded with passengers before taking off again. It crashed moments later.

The plane went down in the Strait of Tiran, between the Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia, where the water is about one thousand meters deep.

Egyptian television reported that French President Jacques Chirac was in contact with his Egyptian counterpart, Mr. Mubarak, to discuss the crash.

The last major crash of an Egyptian plane occurred in May 2002, when a Boeing 767 of the state airline Egypt Air crashed near Tunis Airport. In October 1999, an Egypt Air Boeing 767 plunged into the Atlantic off the coast of the U.S. state of Massachusetts.