Fo­cus is on faults, not ter­ror

Flight recorders of crashed Rus­sian Tu-154 could be in­tact, of­fi­cial says

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGEN­CIES in Sochi, Rus­sia

A pi­lot er­ror or a tech­ni­cal fault not ter­ror­ism is likely to be the cause of the plane crash into the Black Sea, Rus­sia’s trans­port min­is­ter said on Mon­day as the na­tion held a day of mourning for the vic­tims.

All 84 pas­sen­gers and eight crew mem­bers on the Rus­sian military’s Tu-154 plane are be­lieved to have died on Sun­day morn­ing when it crashed two min­utes af­ter tak­ing off from the south­ern Rus­sian city of Sochi. The pas­sen­gers in­cluded dozens of singers in Rus­sia’s world­fa­mous military choir, nine Rus­sian jour­nal­ists and Rus­sian doc­tor known for her char­ity work in war zones.

More than 3,500 res­cue work­ers on 45 ships in­clud­ing 135 divers flown in from across Rus­sia have been search­ing the crash site at sea and along the shore, the De­fense Min­istry said. He­li­copters, drones and sub­mersibles were be­ing used to help spot bod­ies and de­bris. Pow­er­ful spot­lights al­lowed the op­er­a­tion to go on all through the night.

Trans­port Min­is­ter Maxim Sokolov said in tele­vised re­marks on Mon­day that ter­ror­ism was not among the main the­o­ries, and that au­thor­i­ties were look­ing into a pos­si­ble tech­ni­cal fault or a pi­lot er­ror.

Still, sev­eral avi­a­tion ex­perts noted fac­tors that could sug­gest a ter­ror at­tack, such as the crew’s fail­ure to re­port any mal­func­tion and the fact that plane de­bris was scat­tered over a wide area.

“Pos­si­ble mal­func­tions ... cer­tainly wouldn’t have pre­vented the crew from re­port­ing them,” Vi­taly An­dreyev, a for­mer se­nior Rus­sian air traf­fic con­troller, told RIA Novosti.

The flight recorders of the air­craft could re­main in­tact, a se­nior of­fi­cial was quoted as say­ing on Mon­day. “Flight recorders will def­i­nitely be raised when the plane is found on the sea floor, we know where they are; they are in the fin,” the In­ter­fax news agency quoted Rus­sian Airspace Forces Com­man­der-in-Chief Vik­tor Bon­darev as say­ing.

The plane was tak­ing the De­fense Min­istry’s choir, the Alexan­drov En­sem­ble, to per­form at a new year’s con­cert at He­meimeem air base in Syria’s prov­ince of Latakia.

The plane orig­i­nated from Moscow’s military air­port of Chkalovsky and stopped in Sochi for re­fu­el­ing be­fore head­ing to Syria.

11 bod­ies re­cov­ered

Emer­gency crews on Sun­day found frag­ments of the plane about 1.5 kilo­me­ters from the shore but a deputy de­fense min­is­ter told Rus­sian news agen­cies that ex­perts es­ti­mated the Tu-154 crash site at 6 km from the shore.

By Mon­day morn­ing, res­cue teams had re­cov­ered 11 bod­ies as well as frag­ments of bod­ies. Those were flown to Moscow, where the re­mains will be iden­ti­fied.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin went on tele­vi­sion to de­clare on Mon­day a na­tion­wide day of mourning.

Some choir mem­bers did not go to Syria for per­sonal rea­sons. Soloist Vadim Ananyev stayed be­hind to help his wife with the kids as they just had a new baby.

“I have lost my friends and col­leagues, all killed, all five soloists — I feel in com­plete dis­ar­ray,” Ananyev said. “It is such a shame. I have known these peo­ple for 30 years. I know their wives and chil­dren. I feel ter­ri­ble for the chil­dren and for all that I have lost.”

Ananyev said he had re­ceived con­do­lences from all over Rus­sia and from abroad.

“We were loved all over the world, never mind the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

Mourn­ers stopped by the Sochi Adler air­port on Mon­day to light can­dles at the air­port’s chapel and lay flow­ers at an im­pro­vised shrine that fea­tured photos of the plane and of some vic­tims.

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