Red Army Choir among 92 dead in crash of Rus­sian mil­i­tary plane

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGEN­CIES in Moscow

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin said that Rus­sia will ob­serve a na­tional day of mourn­ing on Mon­day af­ter a mil­i­tary plane with 92 on­board crashed in the Black Sea on Sun­day with no sign of sur­vivors.

“To­mor­row Rus­sia will de­clare a na­tional day of mourn­ing,” Putin said on state tele­vi­sion.

The Rus­sian De­fense Min­istry said one of its TU-154 Tupolev planes had dis­ap­peared from radar screens at 5:25 am, two min­utes af­ter tak­ing off from Adler 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.

The jet, built in 1983, had been car­ry­ing 84 pas­sen­gers and eight crew mem­bers.

At least 60 were mem­bers of the Alexan­drov En­sem­ble, bet­ter known in­ter­na­tion­ally as the Red Army Choir, and were be­ing flown to Rus­sia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria to en­ter­tain troops in the run-up to the new year. Nine Rus­sian re­porters were also on board as well as mil­i­tary ser­vice­men.

Konashenkov said frag­ments of the plane had been found at a depth of about 70 me­ters in the Black Sea about 1.5 kilo­me­ters 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, adding that a mil­i­tary com­mis­sion had flown to Sochi to in­ves­ti­gate.

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 pilot er­ror. An­other source told Rus­sian agen­cies that the pos­si­bil­ity of a mil­i­tant 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.

Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told re­porters it was too early to say what had caused the crash. Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tors said they had opened a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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

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, though 32 peo­ple were flown to hos­pi­tals.

SERGEI KARPUKHIN / REUTERS

Peo­ple lay flow­ers out­side Red Army Choir head­quar­ters in Moscow on Sun­day af­ter a Rus­sian TU-154 plane crashed.

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