Bad politics to speculate on cause of Russian flight 7K9268 crash

A flower is seen near debris at the crash site of a Russian airliner in al-Hasanah area in El Arish city, north Egypt, November 1, 2015. © Mohamed Abd El Ghany
The fact the British government is raising concerns about aircraft safety following the crash of Russian flight 7K9268 is a standard security precaution, Jacques Astre, President of International Aviation Safety Solutions told RT.

The UK government says the Russian jet that crashed in Sinai might have been downed by an 'explosive device'.  Flights due to leave Sharm-El-Sheikh for the UK are grounded until further notice.

READ MORE: UK govt: ‘Significant possibility’ bomb may have downed Russian passenger jet over Sinai

RT: Britain has concerns over what happened to the Russian plane, but the UK is not taking part in the investigation. So where do you think they are getting their information?

Jacques Astre: At the present time, since no one really knows what caused the crash, this could simply be a matter of security precautions just to make sure that if indeed it was an explosive device that no one has the opportunity to do that again until they find out what the real cause is. But having followed the news for the last few days, I don’t see anyone confirming that it is a bomb or an explosive device. But it seems to me that if the Brits have flights going there it would be prudent to take any kind of security precautions until a determination is made by the Russians and Egyptians as to what caused it.

RT: As you said, Russia and Egypt have so far not drawn any conclusions on what happened to the plane, but US intelligence officials are saying it was  "most likely" brought down by a terrorist bomb. What impact could this kind of high-level speculation have?

JA: Well, it is never a good thing to speculate, particularly in an accident such as this where 224 passengers have been lost. Because it doesn’t serve the investigation very well, unless they have specific evidence that a bomb was the cause of the accident. Otherwise, at higher levels - particularly in the political arena - they should not mix safety with politics. It is actually bad politics and it doesn’t serve the investigation well.

This whole idea of heat streak seen by a satellite could have been a part of the aircraft actually beginning to disintegrate; or in the disintegration process fuel was ignited, and that is what they saw… If in fact it is an explosive device, they will know, they will know very quickly, because they have the wreckage. If it is structural fatigue failure, they will also know that fairly quickly as well.

RT: ISIS earlier said it downed the plane, but these claims so far have been dismissed. Do you believe they could be behind this attack?

JA: Having investigated accidents myself I can tell you that for me everything is on the table. Until evidence lead us in a particular direction it is not wise for anyone to speculate. They are very highly qualified investigators both in Russia and in Egypt that know exactly what to look for. If they find evidence that leads them either towards a terrorist action, or a structural fatigue failure, they will find it and they will have the evidence to prove it.

RT: What pressure, do you think; airlines or the airline pilots are putting on their airlines and their countries about aviation safety and travelling to that part of the world?

JA: I can tell you that aviation is very strictly regulated – probably one of the most strictly regulated industries in the world. As far as pressure from pilot groups, that pressure is pretty much constant through unions and airline managers who have come to the conclusion that accidents are just too expensive. Everyone is going in the same direction in terms of safety and security – nobody wants a hijacking, nobody wants a terrorist act against an aircraft, nobody wants an accident. So airlines will spend the money it takes to maintain the aircraft.

In Western countries, they are very strictly regulated for the most part. And in some parts of the world that’s not true. So maintenance takes its toll, as does the safety and security of the passengers. Most groups, I can tell you, uniformly want safety, regardless of what part of the aviation industry they are in. No one has an interest in an accident anymore.

The Metrojet's Airbus A321 with registration number EI-ETJ that crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, takes off from Moscow's Domodedovo airport, Russia, in this picture taken October 20, 2015. © Marina Lystseva

‘An aircraft accident investigation needs to be impartial’

Aviation expert Sean Maffett said US intelligence officials “need to operate entirely on the evidence that they have in front of them,” and “should not let themselves be swayed by any political considerations at all.”

RT: Britain has concerns over what happened to the Russian plane, but the UK is not taking part in the investigation. So where do you think they are getting their information?

Sean Maffett: I have absolutely no idea. I presume they have some kind of intelligence which we certainly don’t know about and probably never will. They have taken quite a serious step to delay all British flights out of Sharm el-Sheikh and to send British experts down there to check the aircraft are safe before they are allowed to leave. They must be fairly clear that there is high risk, I assume. But of course I don’t know for sure.

RT: British Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that "safety will always be the priority.” What security checks do you think now need to be in place?

SM: If this turns out to be a bomb - and there is apparently some thought amongst governments that this probably was a bomb - then there may be other bombs on other aircraft. So the cautious thing to do is to have some specialists down there to make sure that aircraft that are departing there are fully searched and secured before they are allowed to leave.

RT: Russia and Egypt have so far not drawn any conclusions on what happened to the plane, but US intelligence officials are saying it was “most likely” brought down by a terrorist bomb. What impact could this kind of high-level speculation have?

SM: I hope that it won’t have any impact on the investigation. An aircraft accident investigation needs to be thoroughly impartial. They need to operate entirely on the evidence that they have in front of them: physical evidence, perhaps recordings from so-called black boxes and of course very detailed searching of the wreckage, and all the things that go with any kind of aircraft accident. They should not let themselves be swayed by any political considerations at all.

RT: Assuming this was not terrorism, what kind of technical failure could cause such a powerful explosion? It was so powerful that the heat flash was reportedly detected by a US military satellite.

SM: I am not entirely convinced by that – it may have been, I am not saying it wasn’t. But it wouldn’t necessarily have been; that could have coincidental with a single heat flash, I understand. However, clearly there was a catastrophic destruction of the airplane of one sort or another. It is possible that it was an airplane problem – that is to say no hostile intent was involved.

Some years ago TWA [Flight] 800 exploded because of a partially empty fuel tank right in the center of the airplane. Something of that nature could perhaps have happened again, or there could have been a catastrophic failure of some element of the control surfaces at the tail of the airplane, which caused the tail… to break off and put the aircraft into a completely unrecoverable dive, which would immediately have broken the rest of the aircraft.

Those things are still possible. But it seems that since the British and now the Irish government, and I understand, possibly some other European governments, have decided that there is enough possibility that it may be a bomb, they have decided to take action, rather than just talking about it. I think that tells you that they are fairly concerned.

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