A Russian military plane carrying 92 people, including dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, crashed into the Black Sea while heading to Syria on Sunday morning.
A TU-154 plane had disappeared from radar screens at 5:25 a.m. (0225 GMT), two minutes after taking off from Adler in southern Russia, where it had stopped to refuel from Moscow, on its way to Syria, according to the Russian Defence Ministry.
Russia’s Defence Ministry regularly sends musicians into Syria to put on concerts for military personnel. The base they were heading for, Hmeymim, is in Latakia province.
There are no reports of survivors, and an unnamed ministry source told Russian news agencies that there was almost no chance for those on board to survive where no life rafts had been found..
The jet had been carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a ministry spokesman stated to reporters.
At least 60 were members of the Red Army Choir, also known as the Alexandrov Ensemble, who were being flown out to Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria to entertain troops in the run-up to the New Year.
According to the defence ministry’s list of passengers, Elizaveta Glinka, a member of Putin’s advisory human rights council, was on the plane , also there had been nine Russian reporters on board in addition to military servicemen.
Konashenkov said fragments of the plane had been found at a depth of about 70 metres (yards) in the Black Sea about 1.5 km (1 mile) off the coast near the city of Sochi.
“The search operation is continuing,” said Konashenkov. “Four ships, five helicopters and a drone are working in the area,” he said, saying a military commission had flown to Sochi to look into what happened.
The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed source in the emergency services as saying about six bodies had already been recovered from the sea.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Sunday it was too early to say what had caused the crash, however Russia’s RIA news agency, citing an unidentified security source, said preliminary information indicated that the plane had crashed because of a technical malfunction or a pilot error.
The Kremlin said 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 into the crash.