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Russia Mourns Plane Crash Victims | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Russian servicemen stand at the shores of the Black Sea near the crash site of a Russian military Tu-154 plane, in the Sochi suburb of Khosta, Russia December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Monday a national day of mourning, a day after a military plane crashed into the Black Sea killing all people on board. Russia has expanded a search operation to try to recover passengers’ bodies and the jet’s black box.

The military plane crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, killing everyone on board, Russian authorities said.

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday that TU-154 Tupolev plane disappeared from radar screens at 05:25AM Moscow time, two minutes after taking off from Sochi in southern Russia, where it had stopped to refuel from Moscow, on its way to Syria.

The plane was carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members, and until late Sunday night, no survivors were found.

The plane was heading to Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Lattakia, Syria carrying 60 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, including its director Valery Khalilov, who were being flown out to perform a concert for the troops in the run-up to the New Year. Also on board were nine Russian reporters, servicemen, and famous doctor Elizaveta Glinka, known as Dr. Liza, the executive director of the Fair Aid charity and the inaugural winner of Russia’s state prize for achievements in human rights. Activist Yelizaveta Glinka, who has won wide acclaim for her charity work, was also on board. Glinka’s foundation said that the activist was accompanying a shipment of medicine for a hospital in Syria.

In a televised statement, 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.

Russian ministry of defense announced that search operations are still on going. Fragments of the plane had been found at a depth of about 70 meters in the Black Sea about 1.5 km off the coast near the city of Sochi.

“Four ships, four helicopters, and a plane and a drone are working in the area,” the ministry announced.

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 area along with a mini-submarine.

By Sunday evening, rescue teams had recovered 11 bodies.

Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, in charge of a state probe into the crash, said on state television that investigators were looking into a “whole spectrum” of theories on the cause of the crash of the plane.

When asked if a “terror attack” could have been behind the crash, Sokolov said: “It is premature to speak of this.”

He added that the aircraft’s black boxes had yet to be found.

Sokolov said the plane’s flight recorders did not have the radio beacons common in more modern aircraft, so locating them on the seabed was going to be challenging.

The plane had last been serviced in September and undergone more major repairs in December 2014.

According to sources, the pilot was experienced and the plane had about 7,000 flying hours on its clock.

According to head of the Aeroflot Civil Aviation Association Viktor Gorbachev, the aircraft may have experienced a power shortage during the flight.

“The weather conditions were favorable. If there had been any problems with the aircraft, with the engines, it would have simply turned around and begun gliding towards the airfield, or would have landed offshore. Whereas here, the aircraft just dropped down, as is the case when there is an emergency onboard, when something blows up or something falls off. As a rule, with these aircraft it is only the tail that could drop off,” flight instructor Major Andrei Krasnoperov told Kommersant FM radio station.