UK

Russian plane crash: First flights return to UK after Sharm alert

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Media captionOrla Guerin reports: ''The first flight of stranded Britons has now arrived back in the UK''

Planes have brought back hundreds of UK tourists stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh, but only eight of 29 flights planned for Friday have operated.

UK flights were halted on Wednesday amid fears that a Russian plane crash last week was caused by a bomb.

The Department for Transport said 1,417 passengers had been returned on Friday.

Egypt said there was too much luggage at the airport as UK passengers are only allowed to take hand baggage - hold luggage will be taken separately.

There are thought to be about 20,000 Britons in the Red Sea resort.

The Russian Metrojet Airbus A321 aircraft was flying from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg last Saturday when it crashed in the Sinai desert, killing all 224 people on board.

'Violent explosion'

UK investigators believe terrorism is the most likely cause of the disaster, and that a bomb may have been put in the hold before take-off.

They have cited intelligence believed to be based on intercepted communications between militants in the Sinai.

French aviation officials familiar with the investigation have also told the BBC the crash was not due to technical failures.

Other French officials said the flight data recorder suggested a "violent, sudden" explosion caused the crash.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered that all Russian passenger flights to Egypt be stopped until the cause of the crash is established.

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Media captionBritish ambassador to Egypt, John Casson: "Our aim is to get as many people home as soon as possible"

Airlines said there were changes to their original flight plans:

  • Monarch said only two of five flights it intended to fly from Sharm el-Sheikh to the UK were permitted by the Egyptian authorities. One has landed at Birmingham, the other is to Gatwick
  • Thomas Cook has been allowed one flight instead of four. This is the flight to Birmingham and East Midlands
  • British Airways, which has one flight leaving for Gatwick, said it had not been informed of any changes to its schedule
  • Thomson, which had nine flights scheduled, said that only two were allowed to operate - to Glasgow and Gatwick
  • Two Easyjet flights have arrived at Gatwick and Luton. The airline has delayed its other seven UK-bound flights until Saturday

Hossam Kamal, Egypt's civil aviation minister, said the decision to restrict luggage on UK flights had forced the authorities to reduce the number operating because the airport could not accommodate more than 120 tonnes of check-in baggage left behind.

Easyjet said it has been advised by the Egyptian authorities that two of its flights will be allowed on Saturday, bringing 445 passengers home. Both flights will land at Luton.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Holiday makers were welcomed home from Egypt at Luton airport

A COBR (Cabinet Office Briefing Room) meeting of security officials met earlier to review the situation in Egypt.

After the meeting a spokesman said: "This is a hugely complex operation. We continue to work closely with both the Egyptian authorities and the airline carriers to get people safely home as quickly as possible. But the sheer scale of the task poses a number of logistical complexities.

"We are working with airlines to ensure passengers get the message not to make the journey to Sharm airport until airlines have absolute confirmation that they will be able to travel."

Easyjet and Thomas Cook said it would cover the costs of additional accommodation and reasonable expenses for anyone affected by the disruption.


Coming home

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Media captionOne British tourist at Sharm el-Sheikh airport described extra security as "brilliant"

Leon Chlon, from Cambridge, was a passenger on the first Easyjet flight to arrive in the UK.

He said: "The last few days have actually been quite precarious in terms of the information we have been receiving. I have just been spending time with my father. He had a heart attack last Friday.

"It was an extremely stressful situation for him since he lives there, and he is scared about the situation and whether it will deteriorate. I'm very, very glad to be home."

Nicky Bull, from Bath, said the pilot told them MI5 officers guarded their plane before they set off - and the pilot received a round of applause as they landed in the UK.

"We felt as though we were on our own. We all got together really. There was a lot of camaraderie. At the airport today it was absolutely dreadful.

"I appreciate all the extra security but they just couldn't cope with it. We had a situation where we were going to final security with all the glass doors and only two of them were open. Everybody was getting crushed."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicky Bull: "We felt as though we were on our own"

Passengers have been advised to only bring essential items such as passports, car and house keys, money, medicines, and mobile phones.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said UK security officials were at the airport monitoring the baggage screening process.

He said the government was making arrangements to ensure the luggage would be returned to passengers in a week to 10 days.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Queues started building up in the terminal as more passengers arrived