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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 3rd June 2016 > INSIDE JOB

INSIDE JOB

EVEN BEFORE THE EGYPTAIR TRAGEDY, THE BOMBING OF METROJET FLIGHT 9268 RAISED CHILLING DOUBTS ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO PREPARE COMMERCIAL AIRLINERS FOR FLIGHT

AT 5:50 ON THE MORNING OF OCTOBER 31, 2015, METROJET FLIGHT 9268 RECEIVED TAKEOFF CLEARANCE FROM SHARM EL-SHEIKH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, THE TRAVEL HUB FOR EGYPT’S BEST-KNOWN RED SEA TOURIST DESTINATION.

At the controls of the Russian plane was Valery Nemov, a pilot with more than 12,000 hours of flight time. He and his co-pilot, Sergei Trukachev, spooled the engines on the 18-year-old Airbus 321-200 nearly up to full power. It was two minutes before sunrise, but already a warm westerly breeze was blowing waves of heat off the sands of the Sinai Desert. Most of the 217 passengers were women and children taking a break in the Egyptian sun. Others on the flight had apparently enjoyed a final evening of Sharm el-Sheikh’s nightlife: Autopsy reports would later show signs of alcoholic intoxication in 20 of them, and three had traces of recreational drugs.

WEAK POINT: The fact that the doomed Egypt-Air flight departed from de Gaulle Airport raised concerns about vulnerabilities at an airport at the heart of Europe, one that has been on high alert since the Paris attacks last year.

Fifteen-year-old Maria Ivleva, in window seat 31A, and 77-year-old Natalia Bashakova, in front of her in 30A, settled down for the more than fourhour flight back to their homes and families in St. Petersburg. Some 9 feet below where they sat, tucked between two suitcases in the hold, was a bomb. Russian investigators believe it was placed there during loading by a baggage handler who was loyal to an Egyptian offshoot of the Syria-based Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

At 6:12:56 a.m., the aircraft was 30,875 feet above the northern Sinai Desert when up to 2 pounds of high explosives detonated.

The subsequent breakup of the plane and its crash onto the desert below killed all 224 passengers and crew, making it the deadliest attack yet by ISIS outside its regular battlegrounds in Syria and Iraq. It was also the deadliest incident on Egyptian soil and in Russian aviation history. The Metrojet attack raises questions about not only about Egyptian security but about a key vulnerability of all airports: the risk not from passengers but from airport staff. If investigators are right and militants did use sympathetic ground staff to smuggle the bomb on board Metrojet Flight 9268, then that might not be just a Egyptian or Sharm El-Sheikh problem; it could be a global problem.

“We are not screening people who work in restricted areas properly—that is definitely one of [aviation’s] Achilles’ heels,” says Philip Baum, author of Violence in the Skies: a History of Aircraft Hijacking and Bombing. “All recent terror attacks have bypassed conventional passenger screening entirely.”

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Inside Job - Even before the EgyptAir tragedy, the bombing of Metrojet Flight 9268 raised chilling doubts about the people who prepare commercial airliners for flight. Owen Matthews investigates for Newsweek
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