ADLER, Russia, AP – An Armenian passenger plane crashed in stormy weather Wednesday off Russia’s Black Sea coast as it was heading for a landing, killing all 113 people on board — most of them Armenians.
The Airbus A-320, which belonged to the Armenian airline Armavia, disappeared from radar screens about four miles from shore and crashed after making a turn toward the Adler airport near the southern Russian city of Sochi, emergency official Viktor Beltsov said.
Officials said all 113 people aboard the plane, including six children, were killed.
Armenian airline officials said they believed the crash was due to the weather — driving rain and low visibility. Investigators did not believe terrorism was a factor.
The crash occurred early Wednesday during a flight from the Armenian capital of Yerevan to Sochi, a resort city on the Black Sea about 350 miles away.
The victims’ relatives gathered later Wednesday at the Yerevan airport for a charter flight to Sochi.
Gurgen Seroboyan, whose 23-year-old fiancee Lucenie Gevorkian was a flight attendant on the plane, wept as he waited.
“We were planning to get married and then this tragedy happened,” he said.
Samvel Oganesian said his 23-year-old son Vram and his friend Hamlet Abgarian had been heading to Sochi for vacation. “Why did he go?” Oganesian asked repeatedly in anguish.
About 100 tearful relatives kept up an anguished vigil in a waiting hall of the Adler airport. Sobbing women held handkerchiefs to their mouths, while men sat silently, their heads in their hands. One man became hysterical and had to be taken away by ambulance.
Aram Sargasian, 22, said he had two uncles on the plane who were coming for a week’s vacation.
“I adored them. This is all like a dream,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian President Robert Kocharian declared Friday a day of mourning in both countries, the Kremlin said.
Meanwhile, divers searched storm-churned waters for the victims’ remains. Search and rescue teams had pulled 39 bodies from the water by mid-afternoon, officials said. None were wearing life jackets, indicating they did not have sufficient warning to prepare for an emergency landing.
The airline said that 26 Russians, one Ukrainian and one Georgian were among the passengers and the rest were Armenian citizens. But Interfax cited Armenian civil aviation spokesman Gayane Davtian as saying no Georgians or Ukrainians were aboard.
The plane with 105 passengers and eight crew members disappeared from radar at about 2:15 a.m. local time, Beltsov said. He said the plane went down while trying to make a repeat attempt at an emergency landing, but the Interfax news agency quoted the Russian air control agency as saying that the plane’s crew had not declared an emergency.
Andrei Agadzhanov, Armavia’s deputy commercial director, said the crew had communicated with Sochi ground controllers while the plane was flying over the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The ground controllers reported stormy weather but told the crew the plane could still land, he said.
Just before the landing, however, the ground controllers told the plane’s pilots to circle again before approaching the airport. Then the plane crashed.
Beltsov said the clouds were as low as 330 feet above the ground at the time of the crash.
The plane broke up on impact with the water, and wreckage was scattered over a wide area, Kubinov said. Salvage workers said the fuselage was recovered at a depth of more than 1,300 feet.
Rough seas, driving rain and low visibility were hampering the search, Russian news agencies reported. A deep-sea robot was to be used to try to recover the plane’s black box, though Rudolf Teymurazov of the Intergovernmental Aviation Committee expressed doubt it could be found since water at the crash site is as deep as 1 1/4 miles.
Agadzhanov said that the airline’s deputy general director, Vyacheslav Yaralov, had been aboard. He said the crew was experienced and that the bad weather was “certainly” the cause.
The Airbus A-320 was manufactured in 1995 and had been acquired on leasing by the airline. The aircraft underwent full-scale servicing a year ago.
Armavia is Armenia’s largest airline. It is 70-percent owned by Russia’s second-largest airline Sibir, and it acquired routes from Armenian Airlines and Armenian International Airlines when those operations fell into financial troubles.
Two Sochi-bound Russian planes crashed in August 2004, one near the central city of Tula and the other in the Rostov region, when alleged Chechen terrorists detonated bombs on board. Ninety people were killed.