The Latest: UK planes at Cyprus airports head to Egyptian resort to pick up stranded tourists

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – The latest on the crash of a Russian plane in Egypt that killed all 224 people onboard. (All times local.)

9:30 p.m.

An official says two of 11 British airliners that were standing by at Cyprus’ two airports for the go-ahead to fly British tourists home from Sharm el-Sheikh have departed for the Egyptian Red Sea resort.

Adamos Aspris, a spokesman for the airports’ operator, told The Associated Press on Saturday that three more airliners with a seating capacity of around 180 passengers are expected to fly to Sharm el-Sheikh and pick up more tourists on Sunday.

Aspris said the remaining aircraft returned to the U.K. without any passengers. He said the congested Sharm el-Sheikh airport where strict security measures have been enacted can only handle a limited number of flights at this time.

Aspris said the east Mediterranean island’s airports stand ready to help.


6:30 p.m.

A Thomas Cook flight — one of nine expected to return stranded British tourists from Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday — is on its way to London with 220 passengers.

Other airlines sending flights to return about 2,600 British tourists included budget carrier easyJet, which has around 1,000 customers in the Egyptian resort affected by delayed journeys.

British Ambassador John Casson said 1,500 Britons were flown home on Friday, and a similar number will follow suit Saturday. He said he has met with the director of Sharm el-Sheikh airport to ensure British tourists can get home quickly and safely.

Most of the 29 flights from the resort to Britain scheduled Friday were cancelled, causing chaos for thousands anxious to get home. Egyptian officials say operations were disrupted by new security rules banning passengers from taking any hold luggage.


6:10 p.m.

The head of the Egyptian committee investigating the Russian plane crash that killed 224 people in Egypt’s Sinai says a noise was heard in the last second of the cockpit voice recording.

Speaking Saturday at a news conference in Cairo, Ayman el-Muqadem says an analysis of the noise is underway to identify its nature.

El-Muqadem says there’s still no confirmation of what caused the crash.

The British government and U.S. officials have said intelligence suggests the plane was downed by a bomb. The Islamic State group has claimed that it brought down the plane but did not provide any proof.


3:50 p.m.

A Cyprus aviation official says 11 British airliners are standing by on the tarmac on this eastern Mediterranean island, ready to go to Egypt when called to fly British tourists home from Sharm el-Sheikh.

The spokesman for Cyprus’ two airports, Adamos Aspris, said Saturday eight airliners are at Cyprus’ main Larnaca airport after arriving from the UK’s Luton, Gatwick and Stansted airports. Another three planes from Birmingham and Manchester are at the smaller Paphos airport, diverted there because they were unable to land directly at the Egyptian Red Sea resort.

Aspris said Cypriot authorities were told the Sharm el-Sheikh airport is experiencing difficulties accommodating a large number of aircraft at once. In addition to planes from Britain, some 93 Russian planes are expected at Sharm el-Sheikh this weekend to ferry thousands of Russian tourists home.

Russia and Britain are among several nations who halted flights to the Red Sea resort after a Russian Metrojet crashed into the Sinai desert Oct. 31 after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh. All 224 people onboard were killed.


2:55 p.m.

Egyptian airport and security officials say an investigation has been launched into any local staff and ground crew in Sharm el-Sheikh that came into contact with the downed Russian Metrojet flight.

The officials tell The Associated Press on Saturday that authorities are questioning airport staff and have begun surveillance on those who worked on the Russian flight that crashed a week ago in the Sinai desert 23 minutes after taking off from the Red Sea resort.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief reporters.

The British government and U.S. officials have said intelligence suggests the plane was downed by a bomb. The crash, which killed all 224 people onboard, dealt another huge blow to Egypt’s battered tourism sector, which is yet to fully recover from years of political turmoil.

— Nour Youssef in Cairo.


2:45 p.m.

A top Russian official says Egypt’s military has taken control of registering departing passengers for flights out of the country.

The statement Saturday by Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich came as Russian tourists scrambled to leave Egypt following Russia’s decision to suspend passenger flights to the country due to security concerns.

Russian airlines are sending empty planes to Egypt to bring home some of the estimated 80,000 Russians in Egypt, most of whom are in Red Sea resort areas.

Dvorkovich said there have been about 10 homeward-bound flights to Russia already on Saturday.

The aviation security fears developed after U.S. and British officials said they feared a bomb brought down a Metrojet flight that took off from Sharm el-Sheikh on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people onboard.


1:50 p.m.

Russian tourists in Egypt are gathering at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport seeking a way home.

Ivan Zaitsev, who works in the printing industry, was in a long, snaking line Saturday of Russian and Kazakh tourists with his wife and young son. He says their travel agent told them the Moscow-bound flight would leave Saturday but that it hasn’t appeared on the monitor yet.

Russia has banned all flights to Egypt until aviation security procedures improve but was allowing special flights to bring Russian tourists back home from Sharm el-Sheikh. Those tourists can only bring hand luggage aboard.

Zaitsev says “I think if the government decided something like this they have their reasons … we’re really hoping to fly back safely. This is the main issue now.”

Over 100 Russian passengers were left behind in Sharm el-Sheikh early Saturday because they didn’t want to leave their luggage in Egypt.


12:55 p.m.

Egypt’s foreign minister says his country did not receive the intelligence upon which other countries based their decisions to ground all flights to the Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

In a press conference Saturday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters that Egypt was not briefed on the intelligence.

He says “we expected that the information available would be communicated to us instead of being broadcast” in the media.

The decision to suspend flights came after a Russian plane that took off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport crashed into the Sinai desert on Oct. 31, killing all 224 aboard. The British government and anonymous U.S. officials have said there was intelligence suggesting the plane was downed by a bomb.


12:40 p.m.

Egyptian airport security officials say a Russian airplane carrying 86 people has left from Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

The two officials say another 113 passengers were left behind early Saturday because they didn’t want to leave their luggage in Egypt. The resort now has strict luggage rules banning any check-in luggage.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Russia on Friday banned flights to Egypt until the country raises its aviation security standards.


12:20 p.m.

Egypt’s foreign minister says his country has not received sufficient support from its European partners in its war on terror.

Speaking at a press conference Saturday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said “European countries did not give us the co-operation we are hoping for.” He says Egypt’s past calls for co-operation and co-ordination from “the countries that are now facing the danger” had not been dealt with seriously.

Egyptian authorities have been trying to whip up support for a war on terror after the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. A crackdown on Islamists and a series of militant attacks on security buildings and checkpoints, mainly in the restive Sinai Peninsula, have followed Morsi’s ouster.

Islamic State extremists have claimed that they brought down the Russian Metrojet that crashed in the Sinai on Oct. 31, killing all 224 on board. U.S. and British officials believe a bomb may have brought the plane down.


11:55 p.m.

A Russian tourism expert says 46 empty Russian planes are expected to be sent to Egypt on Saturday to bring tourists home and another 47 flights are planned for Sunday.

That’s according to the acting director of the Russian Association of Tour Operators, Maya Lomidze, the state news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

The Russian Emergencies Ministry also says it’s sending planes to Egypt to bring back the checked baggage of Russian tourists there. For security reasons, tourists leaving the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh are only being allowed to carry hand luggage on board.

The restrictions are in place because U.S. and British officials think a Russian Metrojet plane may have been blown up by a bomb 23 minutes after it left Sharm el-Sheikh on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board.


11:40 a.m.

Denmark, Norway and Finland have joined several countries in telling their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Egypt’s resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Norway’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday it also urged people already in Sharm el-Sheik not to travel further around the Sinai Peninsula, where Egypt is fighting an Islamic insurgency. Finland made a similar recommendation.

Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen said Denmark “changed its advisory because of information we got.”

Local tourism operators immediately cancelled flights to Sharm el-Sheikh.

A Russian Airbus A321-200 crashed 23 minutes after takeoff from the resort on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board. U.S. and British officials think the plane may have been blown up by a bomb.


11:05 a.m.

The head of Russia’s federal tourism agency says Russians leaving Egypt will be allowed to take only cabin baggage with them and their other luggage will be delivered later.

Tourism chief Oleg Safonov did not specify the reason Saturday for the luggage restriction, but it appears to reflect concerns about security at Egypt’s airports. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday halted flights to Egypt from Russia, due to security concerns.

U.S. and British officials think the Russian Metrojet plane that left the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Oct. 31 may have been blown up by a bomb. Aviation experts say the luggage restrictions that security authorities are putting into place in that Red Sea resort now appear to reflect a desire to not open planes’ luggage holds.

Safonov also said, according to Russian news agencies, that a revised count shows 80,000 Russians currently in Egypt — 79,000 of them in the resort areas of Hurgada and Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Metrojet crash in the Sinai killed 224 on board, most of them Russian tourists.


10:45 a.m.

The British government and the tourist agency Thompson say a plane carrying British tourists to Sharm el-Sheikh in August came within 1,000 feet (300 metres) of a rocket, according to reports.

The near-miss involving a Thomson jet carrying 189 passengers happened on August 23, about two months before a Russian plane crashed in Sinai, Egypt, on Oct. 31, killing 224 people.

The British Department for Transport said its investigation concluded it was not a “targeted attack,” while Thomson said there was “no cause for concern” for further flights.

A government spokesman said: “We concluded that it was not a targeted attack and was likely to be connected to routine exercises being conducted by the Egyptian military in the area at the time.”

A Thomson spokesman said the British government conducted a full investigation and “after reviewing the details of the case, the investigation concluded that there was no cause for concern and it was safe to continue our flying program to Sharm-el Sheikh.”


9:50 a.m.

President Vladimir Putin has cancelled all Russian flights to Egypt until aviation security is improved there, but some Russians apparently did not hear the news.

Travellers intending to go to Egypt on vacation showed up Saturday morning at Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg, unaware that their flights had been cancelled. Some were disappointed, but appeared to be trying to take the news in stride.

Tourist Vyacheslav Kuznetsov said “if there is a reason to cancel, then it’s better not to fly.”

A Metrojet Airbus A321-200 crashed 23 minutes after takeoff from the Sharm el-Sheikh airport in Egypt on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board, mostly Russian tourists. U.S. and British officials think the plane may have been blown up by a bomb.