ON EGYPT’S RED SEA, Jan 8 (AFP) – Mourners, some wailing or even collapsing on the deck of a French naval ship, capped a day of anguished farewells by casting red and white roses Thursday into the sea where an Egyptian plane crashed last week.
All 148 people aboard the charter flight died, most of them French tourists who had celebrated New Year, snorkeled and taken desert safaris in Egypt’s Red Sea resort at Sharm el-Sheikh before boarding the doomed Paris-bound flight on Saturday.
The mourners, their faces pale and drawn, some blank, also dropped letters into the Red Sea. One clutched a teddy bear.
“Nothing will ever erase the pain, nothing will ever erase the absence, the silence,” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the mourners, according to an account officers gave to journalists aboard another ship.
The ship, the Somme, turned off its engines about 3.5 kilometers (two miles) off shore, according to an officer who himself choked back tears.
Clerics read prayers for the victims, according to naval officers who spoke to journalists on the frigate Tourville, which has been involved in the search for the crash debris and bodies.
Only body parts have been found until now and psychiatrists accompanying the families have said their grief will be all the harder to cope with because they know their bodies will probably never be found.
The dead included 134 French nationals, one other passenger and 13 Egyptian crew, who all perished when a Boeing 737 crashed before dawn last Saturday, minutes after take-off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport in a suspected mechanical-related accident.
Some of the French nationals had dual Moroccan, Lebanese, Japanese, US or Bulgarian citizenship.
The names of all the victims were read out by a naval officer during the ceremony, which was also attended by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and Civil Aviation Minister Ahmed Shafik.
Earlier, the French mourners and de Villepin had joined the family of the Egyptian crew and Egyptian dignitaries at a multi-faith memorial service at a tent on a seaside hilltop outside Sharm el-Sheikh, many of them sobbing and one fainting.
“France was deeply touched in the heart by this tragedy,” De Villepin told the mourners at the earlier ceremony before a group that included Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
An Egyptian military band sounded a lament and the Egyptian presidential honour guard, dressed in red and white, gave a military salute.
On the approaches to the tent stood a white marble stone commemorating the tragedy – atop which stood a metal Muslim crescent embracing a Christian cross. Panels with the names of all the victims were placed nearby.
They became a focus of some of the most heart-rending expressions of grief. Some read over and over again the names of their loved ones in disbelief.
“It’s terrible,” a man bellowed before collapsing in sobs.”How? Why?,” others implored.
One woman was consoled by a man, her faced bathed in tears.
When the memorial ended, a Frenchman fainted and his family had to raise him to his feet. Representatives of each family were then invited to throw a white rose into the sea.
The relatives arrived here in white buses trailing the French red-white-blue colors, but first had to pass through a metal detecting doorway before enteringe the site where tents had been set up.
Egyptian and French officials say the investigation of the crash so far points to an accident.
“There is no indication that it can be a question of anything other than a terrible accident even if everything must be methodically and systematically checked,” De Villepin told reporters after arriving here late Wednesday.
French search teams said they have approximately located the black box flight recorders, which could contain clues as to the cause of the crash, but need a more powerful submarine robot to retrieve them.
The family members had arrived late Wednesday on a flight from Paris accompanied by psychologists and doctors.
Mubarak’s wife on Monday presided over a memorial ceremony off the coast laying a wreath in memory of the victims.
More than 2,000 people packed into the historic Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on Sunday for a mass for the victims of the crash, the worst air disaster ever to have hit France in terms of the number of French nationals killed.
Subject: France news