Bomb planted by airport employee

Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (R) listens to rescue workers as he looks at the remains of a Russian airliner after it crashed in central Sinai near El Arish city, north Egypt, October 31, 2015.

Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (R) listens to rescue workers as he looks at the remains of a Russian airliner after it crashed in central Sinai near El Arish city, north Egypt, October 31, 2015.

Reuters
A terrorist attack caused the Russian plane to crash in Egypt on October 31, the head of the FSB, Russia’s security service, disclosed. We asked aviation experts how explosives could have been placed on board and why no one noticed.

The head of the FSB, Russia’s security service, declared that the crash of the Russian passenger aircraft over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last month was the result of a terrorist attack. An improvised explosive device with 1.5 kg of TNT detonated on board the flight shortly after take-off.

FSB experts have been part of the investigation and analysis of the crash site in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, where the Airbus A321 came down 23 minutes into the flight to St. Petersburg on October 31. All 224 passengers and crew on board were killed.

The FSB made the disclosure on November 17, shortly after announcing a reward of $50 million for information about the terrorists who facilitated the bombing of the aircraft. Less than an hour later Reuters, citing its own sources, reported the arrest of two employees at the airport of Sharm el-Sheikh, from where the Kogalymavia (Metrojet) flight took off shortly before the disaster. This information remained unverified.

Since investigators have concluded that there was no neglect during the inspection of passengers or baggage at the airport, aviation experts agree that planting a bomb would have been easiest for a member of the airport services maintaining the aircraft.

A baggage handler?

There are several ways the explosive device could have got on board the aircraft.

Leonid Koshelyov, a board member of the Russian Association of Pilots and Aircraft Owners, did not rule out that the bomb could have been placed in the luggage, like the Boeing 747 blown up by Libyan terrorists over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988.

If that is the case, it is most likely that the bomb got there after the luggage was X-rayed at the airport, so it could have been planted by a staffer, possibly a baggage handler, he said.

After X-ray checks, the luggage from the belt reaches the baggage handlers, who put it on carts or in freight containers, deliver it to the airliner and unload it manually into the luggage compartment. Once it is unloaded, no one re-examines it.

"The plane has two luggage compartments; ahead of the centre section and behind the central section. The Airbus lost its tail wing, so it is most likely that the bomb was behind the central section," said Vadim Lukashevich, an independent expert of the Skolkovo Foundation's space cluster. It is also possible that a suicide bomber was responsible, though that is the least likely option in this case, according to Lukashevich.

"A suicide bomber can get on board, carrying explosives on the body or in a variety of ingredients, which he mixes during the flight. But in this case, it is much more likely that the bomb was in the luggage or in the luggage compartment, somewhere in the structure of the aircraft," Lukashevich said in an interview with RIR.

‘One of our own’

However, if the terrorist was indeed a member of the airport personnel, he could have planted a bomb not only in the luggage compartment, but also in other places on the airliner.

"There are technical hatches, to which a person who knows the aircraft structure has access. And it is possible to shove just about anything into these hatches during the maintenance of the aircraft," Magomed Tolboyev, the honorary president of the International Aviation and Space Salon MAKS and a test pilot, said.

According to Tolboyev, it is enough to put 200 g of explosives in capsules for a powerful explosion. This could be done by the last to check and close hatches. Previously, there was a flight engineer on board, but there is no such position anymore.

"This charter plane, it comes and goes. Who maintains it, who checks the plane before take-off? We don’t know," said Tolboyev.

On the ground, it would also be possible to place a bomb in a niche of the chassis: While the plane is on the ground, the chassis doors are open. "They could magnetize it and put it, say, somewhere in the rack," explained Lukashevich.

In addition, he pointed out, during maintenance a number of local people can enter the plane to clean the cabin and toilets, while if the crew takes meals on board, the bomb could also be put in a food container, as in the movie The Concorde Affair, and this is also a possible scenario.

Are these people checked? Theoretically, of course, yes: This is as much part of aviation safety, as scanning passengers at the entrance to the airport. According to Leonid Koshelyov, the airfield services staff are typically checked in various ways – he gives the example of trying to throw something over the perimeter fence and observing whether they notice or not.

However, the airport staff may not have been monitored particularly closely, he said, simply because if an individual has been working on the site for a long time he is likely to have been considered "one of our own."

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