Search Teams Find Bodies, Debris From Russian Military Plane Crash
RFE/RL December 26, 2016
Russian search teams have recovered bodies and debris from a military passenger jet that crashed minutes after taking off from the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi.
The search continues for bodies and wreckage from the plane, which crashed early on December 25 while flying to Syria.
Many of the 92 people on board were members of the military's official choir, the Aleksandrov Ensemble, who were on their way to entertain Russian troops for New Year's.
All of the passengers and crew are believed to have died in the crash.
"The debris is at a depth of 27 meters, one kilometer from the shore, said Rimma Chernova, a spokeswoman for the Sochi-based search and recovery operations run by Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry.
Russia's military said separately that divers had retrieved "two elements of the plane's control mechanism."
At least 11 bodies have been recovered during the massive operation involving divers and submersible drones. Numerous body parts have also been found.
Day Of Mourning
Russia held a national day of mourning on December 26 as the search continued for clues to the cause of the crash, including the black boxes containing the Tu-154's cockpit flight data.
Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov said the plane's flight recorders did not have radio beacons, and locating them would be a challenge.
The 10.5 square-kilometer search area just off the coast was extended and 10 of the bodies and "86 fragments" of bodies arrived in Moscow on December 26 for identification, Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.
Russia has asked Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia, which is located 7 kilometers east of Sochi's airport, to help look for plane debris and bodies.
Sokolov said some of the bodies may already have been carried off by the current toward Abkhazia's coast.
"I think we will be able to find the location of the plane on the bottom of the Black Sea today," Russian air force commander Viktor Bondarev told Russian agencies earlier.
The passengers on the ill-fated Tu-154 jet included 68 members and staff of the internationally-renowned Aleksandrov Ensemble. The group was scheduled to entertain Russian troops at the Hmeimim air base near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia.
Russia has been carrying out air strikes targeting rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces since September 2015.
The flight originated in the capital, Moscow, and had a stopover in Sochi for refueling, crashing two minutes after taking off.
In Moscow, mourners continued to lay flowers and lit candles in front of a concert hall where the ensemble often performed.
Sokolov, who is also on the investigative commission, said that terrorism was not among the main theories for the cause of the crash and that authorities were looking into a possible technical fault or pilot error.
"No signs or facts pointing to a possible act of terror have been received at this time," Russia's Federal Security Service said in a statement carried by national news agencies.
Also on board were nine Russian reporters, six military personnel, and Yelizaveta Glinka, widely known as Doctor Liza, a prominent member of President Vladimir Putin's advisory human rights council and executive director of the Spravedlivaya Pomoshch (Fair Aid) charity fund.
President Vladimir Putin on December 25 expressed "the most sincere condolences to families of our citizens killed this morning."
"A thorough investigation of the causes of the crash will be carried out and everything will be done to support the families of those killed," he added.
Russian TV channels stopped airing entertainment programming during the day of mourning and outdoor seasonal celebrations were cancelled across Russia.
According to the Defense Ministry, the aircraft had been flown some 7,000 hours since it went into service in 1983.
The plane last underwent repairs in December 2014 and was serviced in September, the ministry said.
With reporting by TASS, Interfax, Reuters, AP, AFP, and BBC
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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