MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday mourned its biggest ever air disaster after a passenger jet full of Russian tourists crashed in Egypt’s Sinai, killing all 224 people on board.
Flags were at half mast on the parliament building, in the Kremlin, and on other official buildings in honour of the victims, most of whom were from Russia’s second-largest city of Saint Petersburg.
Russia’s state-owned rolling news channel Rossiya 24 periodically interrupted coverage with moments of silence and flashed photos of smiling crash victims apparently taken on their vacations and posted on social networks.
Some people had been on their first foreign holiday, some had never flown before, and one couple was on their honeymoon, the channel said.
Locals in Saint Petersburg brought flowers and cuddy toys to a makeshift memorial in the arrivals area of the city’s Pulkovo airport.
Several children, including a 10-month-old baby, perished in the crash, the cause of which is still unclear.
Russian investigators searched the offices of Kogalymavia airline and the country’s transportation watchdog said it will continue checking it until November 30, but the charter carrier was still operating services Sunday.
Kogalymavia’s representatives on Saturday evening said the pilot flying the Airbus 321 was very experienced, while authorities at the last fuel stop said there had not been any red flags.
“The plane did not undergo a technical check in Samara (in southeastern Russia), but the crew went through a health check and was found fit to fly,” said a regional transport prosecutor’s office representative Maya Ivanova.
“There was a probe of the plane’s fuel and the quality of fuel at that time it met all of the requirements,” she said in televised remarks.
Four Ukrainians were also among the victims, said Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.
“It is tragic when people die. It is twice as painful when compatriots die,” he wrote on Twitter, listing the four Ukrainian names.
Many entertainment venues in Moscow cancelled their programmes and media organisations turned their social network icons monochrome as a mark of respect.
President Vladimir Putin, whose office announced a day of national mourning, was however absent from the screens, and some Russians criticised him for failing to speak to the nation about the tragedy.