All 92 aboard Russian military airplane killed
This file photo taken on Oct 23, 2015, shows the official army choir of the Russian armed forces, also known as the Alexandrov Ensemble, performing at the Palais des Sports in Paris. / AFP PhotoA Russian military plane crashed on its way to Syria on Dec. 25, likely killing all 92 people onboard, including dozens of Red Army Choir members heading to celebrate the New Year with troops.
The Tu-154 plane went down in the Black Sea shortly after taking off from the southern city of Adler where it had been refueling, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a briefing broadcast on the ministry’s website, according to AFP.
It disappeared from the radar just two minutes after it took off at 5:25 a.m. (2:25 a.m. GMT).
The ministry told agencies there was no sign of any survivors at the crash site and that 10 bodies had been recovered off the coast of the resort city of Sochi, as authorities pledged to dispatch more than 100 divers to aid in the search.
“Fragments of the Tu-154 plane of the Russian Defense Ministry were found 1.5 kilometers from the Black Sea coast of the city of Sochi at a depth of 50 to 70 meters,” the ministry said.
President Vladimir Putin said Russia would observe a national day of mourning on Dec. 26.
The plane had been on a routine flight to Russia’s Hmeimim air base in western Syria, which has been used to launch air strikes in Moscow’s military campaign supporting its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in the country’s devastating civil war.
Among the plane’s 84 passengers were Russian servicemen as well as 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the army’s official musical group also known as the Red Army Choir, and its conductor Valery Khalilov.
“Losing such a great collective all at once is a great tragedy,” said Moscow city’s culture department head, Alexander Kibovsky, according to RIA Novosti.
The passengers also included nine journalists, with state-run channels Pervy Kanal, NTV and Zvezda saying they each had three staff onboard the flight.
There were also eight crew members, the ministry said.
A list of passengers published by the Defense Ministry also included Elizaveta Glinka, a doctor and charity worker who serves on the Kremlin human rights council.
Mikhail Fedotov, who heads the council, said Glinka was travelling to Syria to bring medication to a university hospital in the coastal city of Latakia near the air base, agencies reported.
Al-Assad, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, expressed condolences over the crash.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but some experts pointed at a terror attack as a possible reason – a scenario rejected by Russian officials, The Associated Press reported.
Viktor Ozerov, head of the defense affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, said the crash could have been caused by a technical malfunction or a crew error. He said he believes it could not have been a terror attack because the plane was operated by the Russian military.
“I totally exclude” the idea of an attack bringing down the plane, he said according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s. More than 1,000 have been built, and they have been used extensively by carriers in Russia and worldwide. The plane that crashed was built in 1983, and underwent repairs in 2014, according to the Defense Ministry.
Tu-154 aircraft have been involved in a number of accidents in the past.
In April 2010 many high-ranking Polish officials, including then-President Lech Kaczynski, were killed when a Tu-154 airliner went down in thick fog while approaching the Smolensk airport in western Russia.