Terrifying final moments of doomed Russian jet: Flight data reveals plane lurched up and down then passengers were sucked out in their seats – as US satellite detects heat flash suggesting a bomb
- Doomed Russian holiday jet lurched up and down before plunging 31,000ft after being blown apart, bosses claim
- Travellers still strapped in seats sucked from stricken Airbus A321 through hole at back of jet when the tail blew off
- Plane crashed into Sinai peninsula killing all 224 passengers and crew just 23 minutes after leaving Sharm El Sheikh
- PM said security officials are ‘looking very carefully’ at whether there is a safety risk to Britons travelling to Egypt
A doomed Russian passenger jet lurched up and down before plunging 31,000 feet after being blown apart by an ‘external impact’, airline bosses have revealed.
Travellers still strapped in their seats were sucked from the stricken Airbus A321 through a hole at the back of the jet when the tail blew off 23 minutes after leaving the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, it was claimed.
The plane twice abruptly climbed nearly 3,000 feet in three seconds before falling 3,000 feet moments later in the final minutes before disappearing from radar, crashing in the Sinai peninsula with the loss of all 224 passengers and crew.
The news comes as US officials claim an American infra-red satellite detected a heat flash on the route the aircraft was taking seconds before the plane fell from the sky, suggesting there was some sort of explosion on board.
Passenger jets leaving Britain routinely fly over areas of the world where conflict on the ground could put them at risk.
The risk was brought into tragic focus in July last year when a Malaysia Airlines passenger flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine by a missile launcher allegedly operated by pro-Russian separatists. All 298 people aboard Flight MH17 were killed.
Since then, with the exception of direct flights into Kiev, most airlines have avoided Ukrainian airspace.
However, MH17 is thought to have been destroyed by a sophisticated long-range missile – not the shoulder-launched devices obtained by IS gunmen and other rebel groups. These normally have maximum vertical range of 15,000 to 20,000ft, much less than the cruising height of commercial airliners.
Aviation authorities issue ‘Notices to Airman’ that place restrictions on commercial flights operated by carriers crossing hazardous airspace. For the world’s most dangerous areas – including Syria and Libya – all flights are banned.
But in others restrictions only apply to flights below a certain altitude, usually around 26,000ft, depending on the perceived range of anti-aircraft weapons available to gunmen in those countries. Warnings issued by the US Federal Aviation Administration cover global hotspots including Libya, Iraq, Yemen and parts of the Sinai Peninsular in Egypt. They are regarded as an international standard.
The Department for Transport’s list of flying restrictions for nine countries issued to British carriers is almost the same but also includes Pakistan.
Planes flying over such areas are warned not to go beneath 26,000ft because of the risk from terrorist or rebel fighters. In many cases – such as the Ukrainian capital Kiev – the no-fly rule does not include direct flights in and out.
Many terror groups around the world have access to the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADS – or Man-portable air-defence systems. They were developed by the US and Russia in the Cold War.
They are a threat to low-flying aircraft, especially helicopters, and it is possible they could be used to attack an aircraft taking off or landing.
In February 2003, then Prime Minister Tony Blair sent armoured vehicles to Heathrow in response to intelligence warning of an ‘extremely probable’ terrorist attack. While it did not happen, it is likely that such an attack could have involved the use of MANPADS.
The data does not show the heat flash travelling at any time, as would be the case had a ground-to-air missile been launched in the plane’s direction.
Instead, the satellite evidence illustrates that there was just a single burst of ferocious heat on the jet’s path.
That has now opened up the possibility that a bomb on board, or an explosion in a fuel tank or engine as the result of a mechanical failure, caused the plane to come down.
A US official stressed that the infra-red data meant any speculation that a missile had been launched at the jet was simply ‘off the table’.
As the first coffins of the victims – who included 17 children – were taken home to Russia on Monday, David Cameron said security officials were ‘looking very carefully’ at whether there was any safety risk to British holidaymakers travelling to the Red Sea.
Bosses at carrier Metrojet ruled out a technical fault or pilot error, indicating that a bomb or missile strike brought down the jet. Alexander Smirnov, the airline’s deputy general director, said: ‘The only possible explanation could be an external impact on the
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