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'Explosive Device' May Have Brought Down Russian Airliner, U.K. Says

Update at 6:10 p.m. ET: British Officials See Bomb As 'Significant' Possibility

Britain has suspended its flights and advised against all but essential travel through the airport at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, following Saturday's crash of a Russian airliner carrying 224 people in the Sinai Peninsula.

NPR's Leila Fadel reports that, following an emergency meeting Wednesday night, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said government officials reviewed all the information they have available and concluded "there is a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft."

A team of British aviation experts is now on its way to Egypt to evaluate security arrangements at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport. The spokesman added that all of the actions were "precautionary."

We'll update this post with news as it comes out.

Update at 2:15 p.m. ET: FAA Advisory Went Out Months Ago, White House Says

The news from Britain prompted questions at Wednesday's White House briefing, where Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked whether the U.S. is considering similar steps, according to NPR's Shirley Henry.

There are no direct flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to the U.S., Earnest noted. He also said that no American carrier currently has regular operations out of the Sinai Peninsula.

Since March, Earnest said, the Federal Aviation Administration has been telling pilots flying in, from or over the Sinai Peninsula that they should remain at an altitude above 26,000 feet.

According to the FAA's security notice:

"Exercise extreme caution during flight operations due to ongoing violence, unrest, security operations and the risk to safety from small-arms, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, anti-aircraft fire and shoulder-fired, man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS)."

Earnest also said that an earlier notice, which had been in effect since at least 2014, had advised pilots to stay above an altitude of 24,000 feet.

Our original post continues:

The comments from Britain's leadership are the latest to portray the Metrojet Airbus A321 crash in a new light. Here's a rundown of how the descriptions of the crash have changed since Saturday morning:

  • Egyptian officials reported seeing the plane split in two, with a small section and a larger one;
  • The ISIS affiliate in the Sinai claimed responsibility for causing the crash;
  • Russia's Transport minister says that claim can't be "considered reliable" — a view other experts shared with NPR;
  • Noting that the crash site is larger than original reports suggested, Russian's top aviation official said Sunday that it suggests the jet disintegrated while it was at a high altitude.
  • With the investigation of the crash ongoing, both Air France and Lufthansa said they would be routing their airplanes around the Sinai Peninsula.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.