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Egypt: Russian Plane Crashes in Sinai; At Least 27 Dead in Romanian Nightclub Fire; Diplomats Agree on New Peace Effort for Syria; U.S. to Deploy Special Forces Troops to Syria. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired October 31, 2015 - 05:00   ET



[05:00:16] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

We get straight to the breaking news we're following out of Egypt. A Russian passenger jet traveling from the resort town of Sharm el- Shaikh to St. Petersburg, Russia, has crashed into the central Sinai Peninsula. This is according to a statement from Egypt's prime minister.

A source in Russia's federal air transport authority tells Russia's state-run news agency that Kogalymavia Flight 9268 was carrying 217 passengers, was carrying seven crew members on board. Sinai state-run newspaper reports that there are 20 ambulances on their way to the crash site presently.

Let's turn now to our own Ian Lee who is tracking this story from Cairo, Egypt.

Ian, now that we understand that ambulances are headed to the location, do we have any more information about where this plane crashed?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, right now we're hearing reports that it crashed in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, near the town or just south of the town of Arish. We do not know at this point what was the cause for the plane to crash, and that is important because the site of where it crashed, the northern part of the Sinai, is home to an insurgency that has killed hundreds of people over the past couple of years.

We don't know if that played a role at all. We don't know what the cause was. But that will make it more difficult if it did crash in that area to retrieving and helping anyone who may have survived or just trying to make it to that site as it is an area that is' affiliate in Sinai is known to operate. So, that will be very hard for rescue personnel. It is a military zone. So, we're going to wait and see what happens there. We're also waiting for the prime minister's office. He is going to be

releasing a statement, another statement shortly, to give us more details. But the Sinai Peninsula is a very rugged terrain. It will be difficult anywhere to retrieve a plane as there's high peaks, very rocky area for rescue personnel trying to maneuver, navigate, to get to any sort of downed plane.

Sharm el-Sheikh where this plane originated from, this is an area known for its tourism. There are flights like this that go in and out of that city all day. And so, we'll be watching to see what really caused this plane to go down on a route that is traveled fairly regularly.

HOWELL: Ian, it's still very early in this process about learning about the plane crash, learning about information. Are you hearing or seeing any reports in Egypt just about people maybe in Sharm el-Sheikh who are asking questions about what happened, possible family members? What are you hearing from Egypt?

LEE: What we're hearing from the Russian embassy is that they are looking into it. They're trying to see -- they're reaching out to people that could have family members, loved ones, really still a bit early to find out if there was anyone still in Sharm El-Sheikh that had a connection to anyone on this plane. Usually these planes when they come in, they're families taking vacations. This one coming from St. Petersburg. Barely cold there right now. We see a lot of these this time of year. People coming to escape the cold, to the beaches of Sharm el-Sheikh. And so you do have a lot of families on board these flights when they come down. People looking to take a holiday.

So, we haven't heard of anyone who may have a connection to that plane still in Sharm el-Sheikh. We're hearing though from the Russians that they are trying to contact the people, their loved ones who did have people on that plane.

HOWELL: Ian underscoring that point, it is still very early in this, but certainly as we report this news about the plane crash there will be a lot of family members on the origin and destination side who are asking questions and want to know information. So, we will, of course, continue to look into it.

Ian, thank you so much for your reporting.

Let's turn to our own Nic Robertson live in Moscow this hour gathering information as well.

Nic, what more do we know?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I can tell you what the family members here in Russia will be hearing. They will be hearing what state media is reporting.

[05:05:02] And across the whole spectrum of media here, state media and others, they are at the moment reporting that that plane went off the radar after 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh. But they're also reporting at this time, and I have to emphasize this is early stages, but we're talking about what the families are learning here.

They'll be learning things from watching Russian media. What they're learning is that the pilot made a call back to the ground control requesting an emergency landing at the nearest airport citing technical issues. That's what's being reported by state media here. That's yet to be fully confirmed. But it's certainly what the families will be hearing.

As we know now, there were 224 people on board that Flight 9268. There were 217 passengers, an initial estimate of those 17 were children. And there were seven crew members as well.

Very little is known in detail about precisely what happened. This airliner itself Kogalymavia has been in operation since 1993. So, it's been around for a while. It was operating on what is a well- known tourist route between St. Petersburg, rather coming back from Sharm el-sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula, coming pack to St. Petersburg. People perhaps getting some sunshine before sort of plunging into the depths of the Russian winter here.

At the moment, we're hearing from the foreign ministry saying they are looking at all angles, looking for information, and as soon as the foreign ministry have hard and concrete information, they'll be working with their colleagues at the Russian embassy in Cairo who will be working with the Egyptian authorities -- as soon as the foreign ministry has more information, they will make it available to journalists.

It is likely at this time as well that the family members here, we're told that many of the people on board the aircraft were Russian holidaymakers, that the family members also will be in a similar situation, tuning into the television stations here, but also trying to make connection with the foreign ministry and other ministries that they hope may be able to help them as well as the airline.

Of course, the phone lines at the airline right now are jammed and busy. We're not able to get through at the moment, George.

HOWELL: Nic Robertson with the very latest live for us in Moscow -- Nic, thank you so much for your reporting.

And to reiterate what Nic has brought us, he says as many Russians turn on their televisions, as they look into media reports, they may hear from Russian media. This plane was in the air for 23 minutes after leaving Sharm el-Sheikh and that the plane -- the pilots reportedly, according to Russian state media, made a call to the ground to report technical issues.

Again, this is information not yet confirmed through CNN. But according to our own Nic Robertson, that is what is being reported presently in Russian state media. We will, of course, continue to confirm information ourselves and bring you the latest as we learn more here on CNN.

Now to the very latest on the deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest, Romania. The nation has declared three days of mourning after flames tore through a concert Friday night. The fire killed 27 people and nearly 200 went to area hospitals, many of them with critical injuries.

Some 400 people were inside this building when it started and here's the thing. There was only one exit to escape. Earlier, we heard from Dr. Raed Arafat, head of Romania's department for emergency situations in the internal affairs ministry.

Here's what he had to say.


DR. RAED ARAFAT, DEPT. OF EMERG. SITUATIONS, ROMANIA INTL. AFF. MINISTRY (via telephone): The response on the scene was very fast. The first responders arrived in 10 to 11 minutes, the first vehicles. Then we declared what we call red plan which is for mass casualty incidents.

We could concentrate on the scene over 50 ambulances of different categories including intensive care units, mobile intensive care units, including materials and whatever is needed on the scene and multiple victim ambulances as we call them which are transporters that can take about four patients in the same car.

So, this is one of the things that we could do despite the fire appliances, the rescue appliances and the rescue teams which were mobilized from the fire service. After that, from the scene, we started distributing the patients to hospitals. But as I told you some of the hospitals received as well patients arriving on their own.

So, the second step was redistribute the patients between the hospitals and we were offered by the military hospital of Bucharest the -- and several other hospitals in Bucharest, we were offered places with intensive care capacities and with plastic surgeons and intensive care specialists to take care of the patients.


HOWELL: That's the latest there from Dr. Raed Arafat.

[05:10:01] Now let's bring in our own Erin McLaughlin live for us in the London Bureau following this story.

Erin, what more do we know about the cause of this fire?


Well, the cause of the fire is under investigation. But we heard from the head of the department of emergency services, we just heard from him there, he said that pyrotechnics, fireworks, were believed to have been used as part of the concert and that authorities are looking very closely at that as a potential source.

Now, the evening began as a fun pre-Halloween event. A free concert by a rock band held in a trendy venue. A basement of an old factory. Because the concert was free, hundreds of people were in attendance.

Eyewitnesses say that it was during the pyrotechnic portion of the concert that the fire was sparked. At first concertgoers thought it was all part of the show. As the realization came that something horrifying was happening, that is when everyone tried to run to one exit.

In total, some 27 people were killed, 146 admitted to the hospital. Video from the scene showed people being treated on the sidewalk.

Now, the head of department for emergency services says that another line of inquiry will be the facility, the venue itself. He says that it did not have the necessary authorizations, the necessary permits, to have that type of event, especially the fireworks portion of that event. Something that authorities are looking very closely at.

HOWELL: And, Erin, Dr. Arafat brought up the point that you mentioned it's not legal for that building to have only one exit. That's something that they're looking into as well.

Erin, just briefly, can you also tell us about this process? As family members will want to know the process to identify the injured and to identify the dead.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's right. Dr. Arafat said of the 27 people who were killed as a result of that fire, 17 of them were so badly burned that they have yet to be identified. Of the 146 admitted to hospital, five of them still alive have yet to be identified because of the extent of their burns. Some of these victims are covered with some 80 percent burns.

So, the government key source of concern for them, of course, is the families and getting the families notified, getting the victims identified. They've set up a number of hotlines for family members to call in. The operators have listed. If the family member calls in with the name of their loved one, they cross-reference that to the list.

If the name's not on the list they refer them to further emergency services to help them with that very important identification process. Romania is a country in mourning right now. The government officials say they have not seen a tragedy on this scale for the past decades. And they've declared, as a result, three days of mourning to honor the dead.

HOWELL: Erin McLaughlin live in our London Bureau -- Erin, thank you so much for your reporting.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

We continue to follow the breaking news here. A passenger plane traveling from Egypt to Russia has crashed. We will have more on this story as this newscast continues.

Plus, diplomatic progress made in the roadmap for peace in Syria. Details ahead as NEWSROOM continues. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:16:10] HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

We continue to follow breaking news, a Russian passenger plane traveling from the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, Russia, has crashed in the central Sinai Peninsula. This is according to a statement from Egypt's prime minister. A source in Russia's federal air transport authority tells Russia state-run news agency that Kogalymavia Flight 9268 was carrying 217 passengers and it was carrying seven crew members on board.

It reportedly vanished from radar about 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-sheikh. Sinai state-run newspaper reports there are 20 ambulances presently on their way to the crash site. We are expecting more information this hour and will bring to it you as we learn more on CNN.

Let's turn to our meteorologist Derek Van Dam who has been checking the weather situation in that region.

Derek now joins us at the weather center.

Derek, what have you learned?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: George, I think it's very important as sparse information that we have at the moment, we start to eliminate all the possibilities including the weather at the time of the last point of contact with Flight KGL 9268. So, what we use at these moments in time is a service called It tracks the worldwide flights, including this particular airliner.

Just to put this into perspective, where we are geographically, this is the Gulf of Aqaba, this is the Sinai Peninsula. We have Israel to the north and east, the Red Sea to the south. You can see the last point of contact and the actual plane's path for that brief 23-minute flight.

Now, when we talk about the weather patterns across that area, I look at lower-level winds and upper-level winds. Remember, airliners typically fly anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000 feet above the sea. Looking at all possible weather scenarios across that region, it appears that upper-level winds were near normal with what we would expect for this part of the world, and at the surface.

So you can see very calm winds across the Sinai Peninsula. In fact, Cairo only reporting winds sustained at about 10 to 11 kilometers per hour, so roughly 5 to 7 miles per hour. Now, in terms of cloud cover, not much in that region as well. Remember, we're still tracking a major tropical cyclone across the Arabian Sea, but you can see that is far away from the Sharm el-Sheikh region in the Sinai Peninsula where the last point of contact with this particular plane is.

This is a satellite image. In fact, I went to NASA's world view website. This is a high-resolution satellite image of this particular region. You can see very little cloud cover over this region. So, from my professional standpoint as a meteorologist, it does not

appear, George, that weather was a factor within this plane's disappearance or crash. But, of course, all the facts still need to be found out. But from my standpoint, it looks as if the weather was not a factor.

Back to you.

HOWELL: Covering all angles on it. Derek, of course, thank you so much for the insight there on the weather front.

And also our own Nic Robertson just a short time ago told us in a report that as Russians wake up and turn on the televisions, as they look into media reports, many are hearing from Russian state media that one of the pilots or both pilots may have contacted the ground to report technical issues.

Again, that is according to Nic Robertson's reporting of what is being said in Russian state media. CNN is continuing to gather information and confirm facts as we know them and we'll pass that information along to you as we get it.

Now, we move on to the war in Syria.

[05:20:00] Diplomats from the United States, from Iran and Russia and other countries, have agreed on a new peace effort after meeting in Vienna on Friday. The talks led to an understanding on key points, including rights for all Syrians. But the leaders are still very far apart on the future of the Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen has more from Vienna.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The meeting in Vienna by itself did not produce a political solution that could pave the way for peace in Syria. However, all sides that were involved did say they find the meeting was very important, also of course, because, for the very first time, the Iranians were at the table.

Now, Secretary of State John Kerry said afterwards that he believed there were many points that the international community does agree on that are important to try and stop the fighting in Syria. He says all sides agree on the fact that Syria needs to be preserved as a unified and secular state, that the Syrian government institutions need to remain intact, that the priority has to be to defeat ISIS, and also that there needs to be a transitional political process, at the end of which there needs to be elections that include all facets of Syrian society.

Now, of course, the big question is how could elections be possible in a country that first of all, to a very large part, is occupied by ISIS forces, but also one that is very much ravaged by fighting?

I spoke a little earlier to Staffan de Mistura, who is the U.N. envoy for the Syria conflict, and he explained how he believes it can work.

STAFFAN DE MISTURA, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY TO SYRIA: Elections can take place only at the later stage. But they need to be seen being ready for the later stage. The first thing will be the meeting between the opposition and the government. In order to come up with a form of governance which is actually all-inclusive, that one can propose a new constitution and a new constitution can prepare for the elections. All that in a rather short time.

PLEITGEN: There was a big point of disagreement and all sides talked about it, the future of the Syrian president. How can you narrow it down? How can you get either side to budge on that?

DE MISTURA: First of all, by not talking too much and openly in discussing that issue, which is clearly an issue of contention.

PLEITGEN: Now, of course, that point, de Mistura was talking about was probably the largest point of disagreement among all of those in the room today. And that is, of course, the future of Syria's President Bashar al Assad.

On the one hand, you have the Russians and Iranian hot say they believe if there is a transitional process in Syria that Assad needs to be part of that process, and also should participate in any elections that could happen in the future. Whereas the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey say that Assad has no place in Syria and needs to step down if there is going to be any sort of meaningful reconciliation in that country.

Now, the meeting here in Vienna is one that produced some results, however, of course, Secretary of State Kerry said he believes this is only the beginning of the diplomatic effort to try and stop the crisis in Syria and the parties did agree to meet again in about two weeks.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN Vienna.


HOWELL: The Vienna talks wrapped up as news broke out Friday that the U.S. will deploy some Special Forces troops to Syria.

The White House says the plan is to send fewer than 50 Special Forces personnel to northern Syria to help train and advise rebel groups that are fighting on the ground against ISIS. Not for a combat role put we're told they will defend themselves if necessary.

But CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer says the U.S. isn't sending enough troops to make a difference. Listen.


BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: The president's policy had been, you know, hands-off, pull our troops out of the Middle East, it will take care of itself. What he didn't count on was the refugees and the fact that Syria, even Iraq, would even get worse. You know, and right now they're casting around for anything. This is

the best they can come up with. Because the Kurds are fairly good fighters and their feeling is with enough weapons and enough training they might be able to make some inroads into the Islamic state, and it collapses. But I think frankly it's a Hail Mary pass.


HOWELL: And that reference, a Hail Mary pass, is a reference to American football play when the quarterback throws a long pass in a desperate effort to score a touchdown but the completion of that pass is likely unsuccessful for the touchdown.

Friday also brought a devastating attack on a market near Damascus. A Syrian activist group says dozens were killed when regime rockets slammed into a crowded street in Duma.

ITN reporter Dan Rivers has more. And we do warn you, parts of this report contain graphic images.


[05:25:00] DAN RIVERS, ITN REPORTER: On a day when peace was being discussed in Vienna, war was being waged with all its hideous consequences in Syria. The day had barely begun when the missiles slammed into the market in Duma. Amid the smoldering wreckage, more than 40 bodies.

"Duma is destroyed," shouts this man. "Where is the world?", a question Syrians have been asking for four bloody years.

Across the front line in government-held territory, we can just pick out Duma and the other besieged suburbs. Sign posted by pools of smoke. The war has reached such levels of depravity that a massacre on today's scale is now routine.

A jet circles overhead. Fatima watches and prays. The neighborhood has been destroyed in this war. Her family has been ripped apart.

She's been left to look after her grandchildren while her four sons fight in Assad's army. She hasn't seen them for two years, but it's the fate of her parents that troubles her the most. Both died in I.S.-controlled territory.

She says, "I wasn't able to pay my last respects, I don't know where they're buried."

Her husband Mahmoud shows me the upper floors of their home, what's left of it.

(on camera): What's your message to the West?

(voice-over): "My message is to let them see the Syrian people as human beings like any other citizens, people are dying, we need humanity, we need them to stop supporting terrorists." (on camera): Over the last four and a half years, Mahmoud and his

family have lost much of what they own. This is what remains of their house. It used to be three apartments but it's been heavily damaged, all the power cables have been looted from it. Look at the state of the neighborhood in which they live.

How many more years of this can they and all the other people in Syria take before finally some sort of political solution is found?

(voice-over): And even if that distant dream is realized, Syria will take decades to recover -- a shattered country with a generation whose childhoods are defined by war.

Dan Rivers, ITV News, Damascus.


HOWELL: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

And we continue to follow breaking news: a Russian passenger jet traveling from Egypt to Russia has crashed, possibly killing more than 200 people that are said to be on board. We continue to follow this story as the news continues around the world this hour on CNN International and CNN USA.

Stay with us.


[05:30:57] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm George Howell.

This is CNN NEWSROOM and we continue to follow breaking news out of Egypt.

A Russian passenger plane traveling from the resort town of Sharm el- Sheikh to St. Petersburg, Russia, has crashed in the central Sinai Peninsula. This according to a statement from Egypt's prime minister.

A source in the Russia's federal air transport authority tells Russia's state-run news agency that Kogalymavia Flight 9268 was carrying some 217 passengers on board, was carrying seven crew members. Sinai's state-run newspaper reports there are 20 ambulances on their way to the crash site presently.

Our team is covering this story from Egypt to Russia.

Let's start with Nic Robertson who is following the story from the Russian capital.

Nic, what more do we know about what is happening?

ROBERTSON: The reports that are being reported here in Russian media, on Russian television, people here are told to expect a press briefing in the next hour from the airport at St. Petersburg. We'll wait to see if that happens.

Also, the emergency ministry are sending three planes to Egypt to help with the investigation. The government has established a hotline for families to call into. The foreign ministry is saying when they get more details, they will make those details available to the press.

The details that we have so far are this: that there were 224 people on board the aircraft when it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh, seven were crew, 217 were passengers. It was flight 9268, commonly known -- this air carrier commonly known here as Metro Jet. This is the logo that it has printed on the side, written on the side of the aircraft. Seventeen of the passengers we're told were children. After 23 minutes in the air, it disappeared off of radar.

We're also hearing these as the families of the people onboard here, because we're told most of them were Russian tourists, families will have heard that it's being reported at the moment, and again, we should caveat this information, that we've yet to have official confirmation, but this is what the families will be hearing right now, is state media and other media here in Russia are reporting that the pilot made a call to the ground requesting an emergency landing at the nearest air field, because he was experiencing technical difficulties.

Again, we can expect updates from the Russian -- from Russian officials. They're indicating that that is coming perhaps within a matter of hours or so, George.

HOWELL: And, Nic, just to reiterate what you're telling us, 217 passengers. You're saying again 17 were children?

ROBERTSON: Seventeen were children. That's the understanding we have at the moment. Seven of the people on board were airline crew.

What Russian media is reporting here again is that the pilot, the captain, made a call. The plane disappeared from the radar 23 minutes after it took off early this morning. And sometime in that time period the pilot made a call requesting an emergency landing at a nearby air field. It crashed in the northern Sinai.

This route between St. Petersburg, the plane was en route from Sharm el-Sheikh, a holiday destination by the seaside, still warm weather, blue skies, on its way back to St. Petersburg, which is where Russian media are reporting that a government official in the next hour or so will likely make the first official briefing that we're going to hear. Again, these are early reports, and I think a lot of details here are still going to need running down and checking.

But it does seem at the moment that the Russian authorities are moving quickly, establishing a hotline, sending three aircraft to Egypt to help in the recovery here and the investigation, and also to try to provide information -- foreign ministry saying it will provide more information when the details become available.

[05:35:12] HOWELL: Nic Robertson live in Moscow, thank you so much for your reporting.

And now, let's turn to our own Ian Lee live in Cairo, Egypt, following the story there.

Ian, we understand that ambulances, some 20 of them, are on their way to the crash site. What more do we know from Egypt?

LEE: George, we just got a statement from the prime minister's office updating us on the latest. And I'll share that with you now. We're hearing that there are now 50 ambulances on their way to the crash sate.

This crash took place in the northern part of Sinai, central-northern part in an area near Hasna, the village of Hasna. The crash happened -- or at least the plane disappeared at 6:20 in the morning. And who found the crash initially were air force jets from the Egyptian air force. They were the ones that spotted it.

This northern part of Sinai is a militarized zone. Egyptian security forces are battling an insurgency there. Now, that being said, we don't know what the cause of this crash is. Right now, we're hearing that it's more likely to be technical issues.

But if it is in this area, it will make it difficult for security personnel to get to it as they do have this insurgency to contend with. We're also hearing that this is a mountainous area, which will also make it difficult for any sort of rescue operation.

Right now, Egyptian officials say that if there are any survivors, that they will be brought to hospitals here in Cairo. But from what we're hearing, it is unlikely that there would be any at this time.

Now this plane was taking people as we heard from Nic, tourists from Sharm el-Sheikh, to St. Petersburg. This is a very popular route. Sharm el-Sheikh gets a lot of tourists hike this coming down, trying to escape the cold weather.

And as we heard, 17 of those people killed were children. A lot of families go on this route. Egyptian officials though saying they still have yet to reach the site of the crash. The only eyes that they've had on it now are from military jets patrolling the skies over Sinai, George.

HOWELL: Ian Lee live for us in Cairo, Egypt. Ian, we'll stay close with you as we learn more information from where you are presently. Thank you so much for your reporting.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. And again, we continue to follow the breaking news. This passenger plane traveling from Egypt to Russia. It has crashed. Hundreds of people are feared dead. We continue to follow this breaking news and we'll bring you more after the break.


[05:41:4] HOWELL: You are watching CNN and we are following breaking news this hour out of Egypt.

A Russian passenger plane traveling from the resort town of Sharm el- Sheikh to St. Petersburg, Russia, has crashed in the central Sinai Peninsula. This according to a statement from Egypt's prime minister.

A source in Russia's federal air transport authority tells Russia's state-run news agency that Kogalymavia Flight 9268, better known as Metro Jet there in that region, who -- for people who fly tat plane, apparently was carrying some 217 passengers, it was carrying 7 crew members, according to our own Nic Robertson, 17 people on the plane were children.

It reportedly vanished from radar, about 23 minutes after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh. Egypt says dozens of ambulances are on their way to the crash site and we are expecting more information this hour and we'll bring you that information as we get it.

But, first, let's bring in aviation expert Julian Bray joining us via Skype from Cambridge, England.

So, still very early in this investigation for sure but we heard from our own Nic Robertson in Moscow just a few moments ago that many Russians are hearing from state-run media that the pilot radioed for an emergency landing reporting technical issues.

What more do you know?

JULIAN BRAY, AVIATION EXPERT: Yes, I've heard that story as well. I think that is probably right. And if that is the case, then it might rule out another rumor going around that it's another missile incident. So, if it has gone technical and the pilot has requested an emergency landing, then he would have actually prepared the aircraft for an emergency landing. So that hasn't happened.

And I understand that they're saying now that the debris field is quite wide and it is totally destroyed, 224 people on board, I'm hearing and that the Egyptians say it is actually in a war zone. So there are some problems there. There's some terrorist activity going on. But they seem to be on top of it, they seem to have actually got some ambulances on the way.

HOWELL: Julian Bray with us live via Skype.

And our viewers are also seeing this plane. It's a Metro Jet, a plane like this. This is what people are used to seeing who use this aircraft.

Julian, I want to ask you, our own Ian Lee told us a few moments ago that basically backing up what you're saying, as far as the Sinai Peninsula, there is an insurgency there that would be certainly difficult as crews try to get to this debris field, but also the terrain there. It's very mountainous.

Can you tell us more about that?

BRAY: Yes, it is. That's going to make the recovery position rather difficult. So they're approaching it apparently by land at the moment. So, they've got ambulances on the way. But obviously it might rule out aerial activity, unless, of course, they can get some kind of accommodation with the warring factions on the ground. So, what we now have is a recovery operation. And they are not

confirming it but it does sound as though everybody on port has perished. And our hearts go out to the families involved.

These are all tourists coming back from Sharm el-Sheikh, which is a very popular destination for the Russians, especially this time of year when it gets cold. And it was due back into St. Petersburg in London time about 3:51.

[05:45:04] And it took off and it was due at St. Petersburg about 12:10. There's more information coming in now.

There's also -- we're getting flight tracking radar screens up which actually shows that the plane disappeared at one point, which means that of course all the systems have shut down or it's crashed.

HOWELL: Julian, for viewers watching here in the United States and around the world, I want to be very precise about the information that we're passing along. Again, what we're hearing from Nic Robertson in Moscow is that many Russians are turning on the television or getting information from Russian state media that this plane, the pilots may have called for an emergency landing, reporting technical issues. But again, CNN has not yet confirmed that information.

Still very early, Julian, in this investigation. But what comes next? Who will lead the investigation in this to determine exactly what happened here?

BRAY: Well, what actually happens now, of course, is notwithstanding that the pilot may or may not have called for technical assistance, there will be -- investigation has already started. And so, the Russians will be sort of involved, as will the Egyptians, because it's actually come down in Egyptian territory. So it should be that particular area that will claim jurisdiction of it.

But, of course, they will actually bring in outside expertise and help, including from your own country and from the U.K., and we expect the team of investigators to be invited to go to the crash scene and assist with the reconstruction. And what they will probably do is actually take the aircraft or when they recover the pieces, as they've done before, to a warehouse, then try and reconstruct the aircraft to try and find out exactly what's happened, but these are early days and everything, of course, at the moment is pure speculation.

HOWELL: And also, again, just talking about this information that's coming across the airwaves and that's also online, I want to reiterate from what we are learning here at CNN, even though this happened, this plane crashed in a contested area, there is no information, again, no information to indicate that this plane might have been shot down as there are some theories out there --

BRAY: You're quite right, quite right. Everything is speculation so nothing is on the table or off the table. So you have to look at all possibilities.

And the thing is, this is a very well-established aircraft. It's an Airbus A321. It's about 17 years old. But as we know, these have very rigorous maintenance schedules.

So, in fact, that 17-year-old aircraft is flying around with a lot of brand-new kit in it because it's periodically swapped over because every piece is timed and so on. It is a fly by wire aircraft so it's all computer controlled. And so, it will do a lot of the thinking for the pilots, if you like. So they do actually have these backup systems.

So if it has crashed, then it's some kind of catastrophic failure. We don't know how it's caused. And this no doubt the investigation will help us there. It does carry the black boxes, the voice recorders, the data recorders. So, if they can recover those, they will find out what has happened.

But we are talking about a recovery operation rather than a rescue operation.

HOWELL: Important to point that out. There will be a lot of families who will be awaiting word about who was on that flight. As you mentioned, getting to this area may be difficult for crews but we understand from our own Ian Lee that some 50 ambulances are presently on their way.

Julian Bray, thank you so much for your insight. And please stay with us, stay close to us, we will come back to you a little later, I'm sure.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Also want to point out that plane you were looking at, Metro Jet, that's what it's commonly referred to there by many people who use the plane. It is a Kogalymavia KGL Flight 9268, apparently crashed. We have information that this crashed in the Sinai Peninsula.

Stay with CNN. We will have more information as NEWSROOM continues.


[05:53:24] HOWELL: Let's update you on the breaking news we're following here on CNN NEWSROOM.

A Russian passenger plane traveling from the resort town of Sharm el- Sheikh to St. Petersburg, Russia, has crashed in the central Sinai Peninsula. That's according to a statement from Egypt's prime minister. A source in Russia's federal air transport authority tells Russia's state-run news agency the Kogalymavia flight also known as Metro Jet.

You'll see that image many times, that's what it's commonly known by for people in that region, the Flight 9268. It was carrying some 217 passengers. It had seven crew members on board. Our Nic Robertson reports that 17 people on that flight were children.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is here as well.

Derek has been looking into the weather situation, which when these things happen it's always a question, Derek. What was happening there in the region? What can you tell us?

VAN DAM: Yes, I know. So very little information at the moment. As we continue to aggregate all the bits and pieces of information that we do have, it's important that we eliminate all the possibilities, including weather as one of the factors of this potential plane crash. And that's what I'm going to investigate now with you. Go a little bit deeper into what's happened across that area.

And, George, in moments like these we often go to the services of a website called, very useful in tracking worldwide flights. This is the last known location with contact from Flight KGL 9268. And that was the last moment after 23 minutes of flight, a very brief flight, eventually crashing into the Sinai Peninsula, a very mountainous area.

[05:55:01] Just to put this into geographical perspective, this is the Gulf of Aqaba, the Red Sea to the south. We have Egypt across this region, Israel to the north and east. And as we look at the weather situation throughout the Middle East during the last moments of contact with this particular airliner it was clear.

Now, we continue to track a major tropical cyclone across the Arabian sea but that is well south and east of the Sinai peninsula. Let's zoom into this region and you can see Sharm el-Sheikh at the bottom sections of the Sinai Peninsula, and also just how clear the conditions have been throughout this part of the world over the past 12 to 24 hours.

This is a high-resolution satellite imagery from NASA's world view and you can see that there was very little cloud cover across that area. We also want to investigate the wind speeds, not only at the upper elevations where airliners fly, roughly 30,000 to 40,000 feet, but also at the surface where the recovery effort will happen.

And you can see that winds in the Cairo region, just about 15 kilometers per hour, more of the same throughout the Sinai Peninsula. However, this is getting into the coldest time of the year, so temperatures will range anywhere between zero to 5 degrees Celsius, roughly 32 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit across that area so that's going to inhibit the recovery effort there, making it very, very cold for let's say the potential survivors of this incident, George, and also the recovery efforts for the emergency personnel as well.

HOWELL: But again, weather doesn't look to be a factor?

VAN DAM: From my professional standpoint, it doesn't look like weather was a factor in this crash.

HOWELL: Derek, thank you very much.

Again, we continue to follow this breaking news here on CNN. Thank you for being with us. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

For viewers around the world, we join our sister network CNN USA for continuing coverage. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)