Focus is on faults, not terror
Flight recorders of crashed Russian Tu-154 could be intact, official says
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.