A huge search operation is continuing “round the clock” in Russia, after a Russian military plane with 92 people on board crashed into the Black Sea. Some 3,500 people on ships, jets, helicopters and submersibles are involved in the operation near Sochi.
The Tu-154 plane – carrying soldiers, members of a famed army music ensemble and reporters – was heading for Syria. All those on board are feared dead after Sunday’s crash. Monday has been declared a national day of mourning. Search teams – including 139 divers – worked through the night in three shifts, and the operation “did not stop for a minute”, Defence Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov said at a briefing on Monday morning. He said that 11 bodies and “154 fragments” have been found since the operation began. Overnight, he added, powerful spotlights were used to search the crash area. The 10.5 sq km (four square miles) search area just off the coast had been extended, the spokesman said.
“Fragments of the Tu-154 plane of the Russian defence ministry were found 1.5km (one mile) from the Black Sea coast of the city of Sochi at a depth of 50m to 70m (165-230ft),” the defence ministry said on Sunday. Ten of the bodies and “86 fragments” of bodies have now arrived in Moscow for identification, Maj Gen Konashenkov said later. On Monday, Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov said that terrorism was not “among the main versions” of the possible causes of the crash. He reiterated that investigators were looking into whether a pilot error or technical fault may have brought down the aircraft. The minister earlier stressed that it was too early to speculate on possible crash causes. Russian media quoted Aerospace Forces Commander Viktor Bondarev as saying that the plane’s black boxes had been located and they were not likely to have been damaged.The plane disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from Sochi’s Adler airport at 05:25 (02:25 GMT), heading for Latakia in Syria, the defence ministry said. The flight had originated in Moscow and landed in Sochi for refueling. It was carrying 64 members of the famed Alexandrov military music ensemble, who were to perform for Russian troops in Syria.