A Russian military plane transporting 92 people, which includes dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, crashed into the Black Sea briefly after takeoff from Sochi on its way to Syria on Sunday, killing everybody on board, Russian authorities reported. Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry stated one of its TU-154 Tupolev planes had vanished from radar screens at 0525 MSK (9.25 p.m. ET), two minutes after taking off from Sochi in southern Russia, where it had stopped to refuel from Moscow on way to Syria.
Ministry spokesman, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, explained to reporters that nobody had survived. The Tupolev transport plane had 92 people on board, as well as 84 passengers and eight crew members.
“The area of the crash site has been established. No survivors have been spotted,” he stated. An unnamed ministry source informed Russian news agencies no life rafts had been discovered, while another source informed the Interfax agency that the plane had not sent an SOS signal.
Russia’s RIA news agency, citing an unidentified security source, stated initial information suggested that the plane had crashed because of a technical malfunction or a pilot error. Another source informed Russian agencies that the likelihood of a militant act had been ruled out. The weather had been good.
A video from the Black Sea rescue operation is presented below:
TASS accounts that weather conditions in the regions were “favorable” to aviation. No civilian flights have been cancelled yet.
In televised comments, President Vladimir Putin, talking in St Petersburg, announced Dec. 26 a national day of mourning. The jet, a Soviet-era Tupolev plane constructed in 1983, had been transporting 84 passengers and eight crew members.
Most of the passengers on board were members of the famous Alexandrov Ensemble, better recognized internationally as the Red Army Choir, the Russian Defense Ministry stated. They were venturing from Moscow to the Russian military base Khmeimim near Latakia, Syria to participate in a Christmas celebration with troops deployed there. The head of the choir, conductor and composer Valery Khalilov, is among the 65 members of the ensemble assumed dead in the accident. Nine Russian reporters were also on board as well as military servicemen.
Russia’s Defence Ministry frequently flies musicians into Syria to put on concerts for military personnel. The base they were heading for, Hmeymim, is in Latakia province. It is from there that Russia launches air strikes towards Syrian rebels.
The passenger list produced by the defense ministry also contains Elizaveta Glinka, a prominent charity activist and humanitarian worker and member of Putin’s advisory human rights council. She is best recognized by her blogger nickname “Doctor Liza.” Some accounts originally stated she might have deplaned in Sochi, but the Presidential Council for Human Rights verified that she was on board.
Konashenkov stated fragments of the plane had been discovered at a depth of about 70 meters (yards) in the Black Sea about 1.5 km (1 mile) off the coast near the city of Sochi.
“Hull fragments of the Tu-154 plane operated by the Defense Ministry have been found about 1.5 km off the Black Sea coast of Sochi at a depth of 50-70 meters,” the ministry stated in a report.
“The search operation is continuing,” stated Konashenkov. “Four ships, four helicopters, and a plane and a drone are working in the area,” he explained, stating a military commission had flown to Sochi to look into what happened. Konashenkov mentioned four bodies had been recovered from the sea. Russian news agencies cited a higher figure.
Six ships from Russia’s Black Sea fleet were on their way to the crash site, and more than 100 divers were being drafted in to search the location in addition to a mini-submarine.
Konashenkov stated the plane had last been serviced in September and undergone more major repairs in December 2014. He mentioned the pilot was experienced and that the plane had about 7,000 flying hours on its clock.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov informed reporters it was too early to claim what had triggered the crash. Putin was being kept continuously advised of the latest developments, Peskov explained.
Reported by Reuters, Russian military investigators stated in a statement they had opened a criminal investigation into the crash. The Kremlin explained Putin expressed his deepest condolences to those who had lost loved ones in the crash and ordered Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to head a government investigatory commission.
The last big TU-154 crash was in 2010 when a Polish jet transporting then-president Lech Kaczynski and much of Poland’s political elite crashed in western Russia killing everybody on board.
Russian news agencies cited Denis Manturov, the Russian Transport Minister, as stating on Sunday it was premature to discuss about withdrawing the TU-154 from service.
On Dec. 19, a Russian military jet crashed in Siberia with 39 people on board as it attempted to make an emergency landing near a Soviet-era military base. Nobody was killed in that event, though 32 people were airlifted to hospital.
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