CAIRO, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- A Russian passenger airplane crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing all 224 passengers and crew aboard.
The jet, operated by the Russian airline Kogalymavia and branded as Metrojet, has been "completely destroyed with all on board likely to have died," officials said. Egyptian air traffic control lost contact with the Airbus A-321 shortly after it departed from Sharm el-Sheikh for St. Petersburg, Russia's second largest city. There were 217 passengers, including 17 children, and seven crew members aboard.
A team retrieved the black boxes from the aircraft. Authorities said the pilot failed to make contact with Cyprus air traffic control 23 minutes after takeoff and disappeared from radar.
Ayman Al-Mokadem, an official investigating the crash, said the crash was likely due to "technical failure," refuting early speculation it was shot down. He said the pilot reported problems and asked to land immediately at the nearest airport just before it disappeared.
Egyptian Minister of Civil Aviation Hossam Kamal said it is too soon to tell the cause of the crash.
A branch of the Islamic State operating on the Sinai Peninsula posted messages to social media claiming to have shot down the jet, but both Russian and Egyptian officials said they don't believe those claims to be credible. Experts don't believe terrorist operatives in the region have the weaponry to shoot down an airliner from such a high altitude.
Airliners Lufthansa and Air France announced they would redirect flights around Sinai as a precautionary measure until investigations into the crash are concluded.
Airbus said the aircraft was manufactured in 1997 and has been operated by Metrojet since 2012. It has accumulated some 56,000 flight hours from nearly 21,000 flights. The A320 series seats up to 240 passengers.
In an interview with Russia's state-controlled broadcast network, NTV, Natalya Trukhacheva, wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukachev, said her husband complained of the plane's condition.
Metrojet officials denied reports that there were problems with the plane.
"In 2014, the airplane has undergone factory maintenance in accordance with the factory specifications," the airliner said in a statement. "All requirements of preflight technical maintenance were fulfilled in full and on time."