Maxim Grigoriev / Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations / AP

Updated on November 2 at 10:51 a.m. ET

The Russian Airbus that crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board, could have only been brought down by external forces, a senior airline official said.   

The comments by Alexander Smirnov, a deputy director for Kogalymavia, which was operating under the name Metrojet, came the same day a spokesman for the Kremlin said terrorism could not be ruled out, and as the Russian aviation agency said it was premature to attribute a cause to what caused the crash.

Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed Saturday shortly after takeoff from the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg, Russia. As my colleague Marina Koren reported over the weekend, of the 217 passengers, all were Russian except for four Ukrainians and one Belarusian. The seven crew members were all Russian.

A Russian aviation official said Sunday the plane broke up in midair before it went down in the Hassana area of the Sinai. The Airbus A321-200 was flying at about 30,000 feet when it disappeared from flight-tracking systems. As Marina reported:

Egyptian aviation officials say the pilot had reported technical difficulties and was planning to land the Airbus A321-200 at the nearest airport before losing contact with air traffic controllers. Russian officials dismissed a claim by a local affiliate of the Islamic State that it “brought down” the plane. Preliminary reports suggest technical malfunctions.

But Smirnov, said at a news conference Monday, said the crew did not get in contact about the plane’s rapid loss of speed and altitude.

“We are certain that neither technical malfunction nor pilot error” caused the crash, he said.

He added: “The only possible explanation is a mechanical force acting on the aircraft. There is no combination of system failures that could have broken the plane apart in the air.”

Smirnov said the investigation was ongoing, and other airline officials at the news conference dismissed suggestions the aircraft was too old to fly, or that it had problems caused by damage to the tail in 2001.

But the head of Rosaviatsia, Russia’s federal air transport agency, urged caution.

“It is completely premature to speak about the reasons of this as there are not grounds,” Alexander Neradko told Rossiya-24 television. “And I’d like to call on the aviation community to refrain from any premature conclusions.”

At the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman, was asked if terrorism was to blame for the crash. His reply: “We cannot say what version of a possible cause of the crash will be a basis of the investigation.”

Egyptian officials have recovered both the plane’s black boxes, which will be used to determine what caused the aircraft to crash.  

The bodies of 144 of the victims arrived in St. Petersburg Monday. A second aircraft will bring the others.

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