-- The bodies of those killed when a plane headed to St. Petersburg crashed shortly after taking off from a resort town in Egypt will begin returning to Russia as investigators try to learn what caused the crash.
Of the 224 people on board the Metrojet Airbus A321-200 when it crashed, 187 bodies have been recovered, prosecutors told Egypt's state news agency. They were expected to begin arriving in Russia on Sunday evening.
The plane took off from El Salam, Egypt, early Saturday before it disappeared from radar for 23 minutes, according to the Civil Aviation Authority. It crashed in a mountainous region near al-Hassana.
The head of Russia's Inter-state Aviation Committee, which is investigating the crash, said the plane broke up in midair, scattering pieces for more than 12 miles, Interfax reported.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said the investigation may take months. He said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Egypt welcomes foreign cooperation in the investigation as to why the plane crashed.
Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said it sent more than 100 emergency workers to the Sinai Peninsula to assist in the search for bodies and analyze the debris. Russian officials said the rescue teams need to search roughly six square miles.
Three Russian Cabinet ministers toured the crash site and will also inspect the plane's data and cockpit voice recorders.
“The black box has been recovered and the analysis will start to figure out what happened and led to the crash,” said Mohammed Abdel-Rahman of Egypt’s Civil Aviation Agency. “Any talk before that would be mere speculation.”
Abdel-Rahman rejected previous reports that the plane had issued a distress call before the crash.
“There was no distress call and we are not responsible for what news agencies are reporting,” he said.
Egypt’s Civil Aviation Agency announced that a French air accident team, including investigators from Airbus, was expected to arrive in Cairo to assist with inspecting the plane’s black box. The French BEA officials will be joined by investigators from Germany and Russia.
Russia’s Federal Transport Oversight Service has banned Metrojet from flying A321 planes until measures are taken to bring them in line with “the flight safety system adopted by the airline company,” Interfax reported.
Meanwhile, Natalya Trukhachev, the former wife of the flight's co-pilot Sergei Trukachev, told Russian TV that he spoke to their daughter before the flight and complained about the condition of the aircraft.
“He complained again, that before the flight, that the technical state of the plane was, well, you might say, he said he could wish it was better," she said.
In Russia, people continued to lay flowers and pay respects at a makeshift memorial site for victims set up outside St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo International Airport. The Kremlin had said Sunday would be a day of mourning.
A memorial service put on by local groups will also take place Sunday night in St. Petersburg.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.