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French robot to dive Red Sea for crash 'black box'
( 2004-01-05 09:13) (Agencies)

A French submersible robot will dive deep into the Red Sea on Monday to hunt for the flight recorder of an Egyptian Boeing 737 which crashed killing all 148 people on board.

Officials said a team of French divers and salvage experts would also join the mission to help retrieve bodies and the wreckage of the plane, which crashed on Saturday just after take off into deep waters near Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resort.

The "black box" flight recorders, which should help explain what happened to the Paris-bound flight, are thought to lie at a depth of up to 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) -- depths far too deep for divers.

French Transport Minister Gilles de Robien said conclusions about what happened to the plane, which was carrying 133 French tourists and 15 other people, should not be drawn before the flight recorders were found.

Swiss aviation authorities said they had banned the operators of the Boeing 737 from Swiss airspace for safety reasons, but Cairo said Egyptian aviation met safety standards.

Flash Airlines chairman and chief executive officer Mohamed Nour played down the Swiss comments, saying a financial disagreement with a Swiss handling agency, not safety, was behind it. He said Swiss authorities had checked a Flash plane in October 2002 and found it was missing items such as fog goggles for pilots.

"They did not stop the aircraft flying over or landing in Switzerland, because they allowed us a week later to land again there and they inspected the aircraft again, found everything in order and allowed us again to take off on time. And they allowed us to carry Swiss nationals," Nour said.

De Robien told French television Flash Airlines' planes had passed safety checks in Autumn 2003, although an earlier inspection in France had raised reservations.

Polish authorities had also approved the planes and the airline as safe, he said. "This means that the planes appeared to be in perfectly good shape," added de Robien, who earlier said the plane had probably crashed because it lost power. The crash victims included three generations of a family of 11 from Talant, near Dijon in eastern France. Philippe Fouchard, 66, was killed, with his wife Annie, their two children, their children's spouses and their five grandchildren, aged between three and 10 years old.

Weeping and clutching each other for support, some families and friends of victims attended a service at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

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