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Egyptian Airliner Plunges into Red Sea; 148 Dead - 2004-01-03

Egyptian authorities say initial indications are that technical problems were to blame for Saturday's crash of a charter flight. All 148 people on board were killed, most of them French tourists.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says Egypt is sparing no effort to recover bodies and parts of the Egyptian plane, which crashed shortly after takeoff from Egypt's Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Most of the passengers were French tourists, headed home to Paris.

Wageeh Abdel Ghani is the secretary general of the governorate of South Sinai, where Sharm el-Sheikh is located. Mr. Ghani said rescue teams are scouring the sea for bodies and plane debris, but that high waves are complicating the search.

He also said there was no sign of life, and that French officials had begun arriving to help in the investigation of the crash of the Boeing 737 jet, which was operated by the private Egyptian charter company, Flash Airline.

Egyptian television showed pictures of an Egyptian armed forces transport plane and two helicopters searching the waters off the coast of Sharm el-Sheikh. The plane went down in the Strait of Tiran, between the Sinai peninsula and Saudi Arabia, where the water is hundreds of meters deep.

Egyptian Aviation officials and Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, called the crash an accident. There is no sign that terrorism was involved.

Mr. Maher told journalists in Cairo that his country welcomed French investigation teams to help assess possible reasons for the crash. He said the initial investigations were pointing to technical failure.

Tourism is one of Egypt's most important sources of hard currency. Sharm el-Sheikh, in addition to being a major resort for diving, is used as a venue for international meetings. Egyptian media reported a meeting there Saturday between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is vacationing at the resort.

The last major crash by an Egyptian plane took place in May 2002, when a Boeing 767 belonging to the state airline Egypt Air crashed near Tunis airport.

In October 1999, an Egypt Air Boeing 767 plunged into the sea off the coast of the U.S. state of Massachusetts.