A Russian defense ministry Tu-154 aircraft with 92 people on board, including 84 passengers and eight crew members (carrying reporters, soldiers and more than 60 members of a famed military band) has crashed into the Black Sea near Sochi.
The Military plane (a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154) disappeared from the radar two minutes after taking off from the Adler airport, the resort town of Sochi, where it had stopped to refuel at 05:25 (02:25 GMT), heading for the Russian Hmeymim airbase in Latakia, Syria, the defence ministry said.
Most of the passengers on board were members of the internationally renowned Alexandrov military music ensemble (Red Army Choir) travelling to the Russian military base Khmeimim near Latakia (Syria) from Moscow to entertain Russian troops for the new year on Dec. 25. The head of the choir, composer Valery Khalilov and conductor, is among over 60 members of the band killed in the accident.
The transportation minister Maxim Sokolov said that more than 35 vessels were deployed in the recovery operation, and 100 divers are involved in a round-the-clock search operation (covering more than 100 sq km/ 38 sq miles) with planes, helicopters, drones and submersibles were also being used to help spot bodies and debris at the crash site.
A defence ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said in a briefing, “The search operation is complicated by the large depth range and the sea bottom relief characteristics in the presumed crash area.”
Deputy Defense Minister Ruslan Tsalikov said, eleven bodies were recovered and transferred to a morgue in Sochi by Sunday night and 154 (body parts) fragments were found over the first day, but officials believe many more may be trapped inside the remains of the aircraft. Along with the first 11 bodies, 86 body parts were flown to the capital for DNA analysis, Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, Russia’s transport minister says investigators are looking into an “entire spectrum” of possible reasons the crash occurred, including the possibility of a terror attack. He reiterated that investigators were looking into whether pilot error or a technical fault may have brought down the aircraft. Although initial Russian news media reports indicated it was a technical failure rather than terrorism.
Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said that the plane’s “black box” flight recorders, situated in the tail of the aircraft, had not yet been retrieved.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to the victims and ordered to Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev (Prime Minister of Russia) to establish a state commission to investigate the cause of the plane crash.
“First of all, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the families of our citizens, who died today, as a result of an aviation catastrophe over the Black Sea this morning,” The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, declared a day of national mourning on Monday.