LONDON (AA): Thousands of tourists remain stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh after Russia joined a lengthening list of countries suspending flights to the Egyptian resort.
President Vladimir Putin asked for the suspension of all flights to Egypt following security concerns raised by the U.K., which called off flights on Wednesday over fears a plane crash at the weekend may have been caused by a bomb on board the aircraft.
All 224 passengers on board the Metrojet Airlines flight bound for St Petersburg were killed when the plane crashed in the Sinai desert shortly after taking off on Saturday.
Russia joins Britain and Ireland in suspending scheduled flights, while Belgium, France and the Netherlands have all advised their citizens not to visit the Egyptian resort by air.
Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa have cancelled their flights to the resort this weekend, while Air France, which does not fly to the town, said it would tighten security arrangements around its Cairo flights.
The Russian decision came after Alexander Bortnikov, the director of the Federal Security Service, recommended suspending flights until the investigation into the crash was completed.
The suspension of flights has created a logistical challenge to repatriate an estimated 42,000 Russian and 19,000 British tourists.
On Friday morning, British airlines sent as many as nineteen empty aircraft to collect tourists who have been unable to fly out since Wednesday.
Passengers were told heightened security measures meant their luggage would be flown back to Britain separately and returned to them seven to ten days later and that they would be permitted to take just 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of hand luggage with them.
However, several aircraft were forced to turn back or land at Cyprus as Sharm el-Sheikh does not have the capacity to handle so many flights at once.
By Friday afternoon, just two aircraft belonging to the budget carrier easyJet, which had arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh before flights were suspended on Wednesday, had departed carrying 359 passengers back to the U.K.
Hundreds more British tourists were stranded at the airport or at hotels in the resort, with Russia’s decision to suspend flights expected to add to the number.
According to Spokesperson from Prime Minister David Cameron, “We continue to work closely with both the Egyptian authorities and the airline carriers to get people safely home as quickly as possible. But the sheer scale of the task poses a number of logistical complexities.
“Our aim remains to bring holidaymakers back to the UK as soon as possible. We are working with airlines to ensure passengers get the message not to make the journey to Sharm airport until airlines have absolute confirmation that they will be able to travel.”
Unlike Britain, Russia has suspended its flights to all Egyptian airports, including popular tourist destinations like Cairo and Hurghada.
Egypt’s Aviation Minister Hossam Kamal said in a written statement seen by Anadolu Agency that more than one-third of the airport’s 74 flight departures on Friday would be to the U.K.
He added that 29 Friday flights were scheduled to fly to Britain.