All 92 on Syria-Bound Russian Military Jet Killed in Crash

MOSCOW (Reuters) -
Russian Emergencies Ministry members push a cart with remains of the Russian military Tu-154 plane which crashed into the Black Sea, at a quay in the Sochi suburb of Khosta, Russia, Sunday. (Reuters/Yevgeny Reutov)

A Russian military plane carrying 92 people crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, killing everyone on board, Russian authorities said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said one of its TU-154 Tupolev planes had disappeared from radar screens at 5:25 MSK local time, two minutes after taking off from Sochi in southern Russia, where it had stopped to refuel from Moscow, on its way to Syria.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a Ministry spokesman, told reporters that nobody had survived.

“The area of the crash site has been established. No survivors have been spotted,” he said. An unnamed Ministry source told Russian news agencies no life rafts had been found, while another source told the Interfax agency that the plane had not sent an SOS signal.

In comments to the media, President Vladimir Putin, speaking in St. Petersburg, declared Dec. 26 a national day of mourning.

The jet, a Soviet-era Tupolev plane built in 1983, had been carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members.

Konashenkov said fragments of the plane had been found at a depth of about 70 yards in the Black Sea about 1 mile off the coast near the city of Sochi.

“The search operation is continuing,” said Konashenkov. “Four ships, four helicopters, and a plane and a drone are working in the area,” he said, saying a military commission had flown to Sochi to look into what happened.

Six ships from Russia’s Black Sea fleet were on their way to the crash site, and more than 100 divers were being drafted to search the area along with a mini-submarine.

Konashenkov said four bodies had been recovered from the sea. Russian news agencies cited a higher figure.

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. Another source told Russian agencies that the possibility of a terror act had been ruled out. The weather had been good.

Konashenkov said the plane had last been serviced in September and undergone more major repairs in December 2014. He said the pilot was experienced and that the plane had about 7,000 flying hours on its clock.

According to the Defense Ministry’s passenger manifest, Elizaveta Glinka, a member of Putin’s advisory human rights council, was on the plane.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters it was too early to say what had caused the crash. Putin was being kept constantly informed of the latest developments, Peskov said.

Russian military investigators said in a statement they had opened a criminal investigation into the crash.

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.

The last big TU-154 crash was in 2010 when a Polish jet carrying then-president Lech Kaczynski and much of Poland’s political elite crashed in western Russia, killing everyone on board.

Russian news agencies cited Denis Manturov, the Russian Transport Minister, as saying on Sunday that it was premature to talk about withdrawing the TU-154 from service.

On Dec. 19, a Russian military jet crashed in Siberia with 39 people on board as it tried to make an emergency landing near a Soviet-era military base. Nobody was killed in that incident, though 32 people were airlifted to a hospital.