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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – An Egyptian ground service official who carried out a pre-flight inspection of the Russian passenger plane that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula said Sunday that the Airbus A321-200 appeared to be in good condition.
The Metrojet plane, bound for St. Petersburg in Russia, crashed 23 minutes after it took off from Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday morning. The 224 people on board, all Russian except for four Ukrainians, died.
The Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said he was a member of a technical inspection team that included two Russians.
"We are all shocked. It was a good plane. Everything checked out in 35 minutes," the official told The Associated Press. The closest the plane came to being in trouble, he said, was three months ago when the pilot aborted takeoff halfway through because of a system error.
"That's almost routine though," he said.
However, a Russian TV channel late on Saturday quoted the wife of the co-pilot as saying her husband had complained about the plane's condition. Natalya Trukhacheva, identified as the wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukhachev, said a daughter "called him up before he flew out. He complained before the flight that the technical condition of the aircraft left much to be desired."
Another Egyptian official had previously said that before the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers the pilot had radioed and said the aircraft was experiencing technical problems and that he intended to try and land at the nearest airport.
A local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group claimed it "brought down" the aircraft, but Russia's transport minister dismissed the claim. The militants did not offer any evidence to back up their claim.
Meanwhile, Dubai-based Emirates, the Middle East's largest carrier, said on Sunday it has stopped flying over Egypt's Sinai until more is known about the crash of the Russian airliner.
It joins two major European airlines, Germany's Lufthansa and Air France, that announced following the crash Saturday that they would immediately stop flying over Sinai for safety reasons until the cause of the crash was determined.
Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov and Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov arrived in Egypt late Saturday to join their Egyptian counterparts overseeing the investigation at the crash site, a remote mountainous region in northern Sinai. Authorities had already recovered at least one "black box" flight data recorder.
Also joining the effort on Sunday were officials from France's BEA accident investigation agency, involved because the Airbus A321-200 jet was designed in France. The team included two BEA investigators and six technical advisers from Airbus. The BEA said the team would be joined by two investigators from its German counterpart BFU, because the plane was manufactured in Germany, and four investigators from its Russian counterpart MAK, because the plane was operated by a Russian company.
Two Russian teams of search and rescue experts have also arrived in Egypt and were headed to the crash site to assist in the recovery of bodies.
The Egyptian Cabinet said Sunday that 163 bodies have so far been recovered and sent to morgues in Cairo.
Nour reported from Cairo.