Parts of crashed Rus­sian plane found

Pi­lot er­ror, tech­ni­cal fault main the­o­ries No ev­i­dence of foul play found

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SOCHI: Rus­sian res­cuers found yes­ter­day the first parts of the Syria-bound mil­i­tary plane that plunged into the Black Sea, as of­fi­cials dis­missed ter­ror­ism as a pos­si­ble cause of the crash that killed all 92 peo­ple on board. The Tu-154 jet, whose pas­sen­gers in­cluded more than 60 mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tion­ally-renowned Red Army Choir, was head­ing to Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary base in Syria when it went down off the coast of the re­sort city of Sochi shortly af­ter take-off on Sun­day.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have yet to con­firm the cause of the crash, but of­fi­cials said that an act of ter­ror was not be­ing con­sid­ered as a pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion, de­spite the plane and its black boxes still be­ing un­der­wa­ter. A spokes­woman for the Sochi-based search and res­cue branch of the emer­gency ministry con­firmed that parts of the plane had been found un­der­wa­ter. “The de­bris is at the depth of 27 me­tres one mile from shore,” spokes­woman Rimma Ch­er­nova told AFP. The Rus­sian mil­i­tary added that divers had re­trieved “two el­e­ments of the plane’s con­trol mech­a­nism.”

Au­thor­i­ties have said that the search op­er­a­tion would con­tinue overnight. Rus­sia’s fed­eral se­cu­rity ser­vice said it is look­ing into four sus­pected causes of the crash, which do not in­clude ter­ror­ism. “No signs or facts point­ing to a pos­si­ble act of ter­ror have been re­ceived at this time,” Rus­sia’s Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice said in a state­ment car­ried by na­tional news agen­cies. The probe is fo­cus­ing on a pi­lot er­ror, a tech­ni­cal fault, bad fuel and a for­eign ob­ject in the en­gine as the four main sce­nar­ios, it added.

Thou­sands search­ing

The mil­i­tary has cor­doned off part of the Sochi shore, with sol­diers stand­ing in a chain and mo­tor­boats par­tic­i­pat­ing in the search reg­u­larly un­load­ing at the pier, an AFP pho­tog­ra­pher re­ported. More than three thou­sand peo­ple are rac­ing to find the re­main­ing bod­ies and de­bris in a mas­sive op­er­a­tion that in­cludes 45 ves­sels, planes, he­li­copters and drones, along with divers and re­motely-op­er­ated deep-wa­ter ma­chines. Trans­port Min­is­ter Maxim Sokolov said some of the bod­ies could have al­ready been car­ried off by the “strong cur­rent” to Abk­hazia, the sep­a­ratist re­gion of Ge­or­gia, and some of its own res­cue work­ers have joined the search op­er­a­tion.

Along with the first 10 bod­ies, 86 body frag­ments were brought to the Rus­sian cap­i­tal for DNA anal­y­sis, de­fence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. He said searchers have fin­ished look­ing over the on­land ter­ri­tory around the crash site while divers are work­ing over an area with a ra­dius of 500 m.

Choir ‘or­phaned’

The Tu-154 jet went down on Sun­day morn­ing min­utes af­ter tak­ing off at 5:25 am (0225 GMT) from Sochi’s air­port, where it had stopped to re­fuel af­ter fly­ing out from the Chkalovsky mil­i­tary aero­drome in the Moscow re­gion. On­board were 64 mem­bers of the Alexan­drov En­sem­ble - the army’s of­fi­cial mu­si­cal group, also known as the Red Army Choir - and their con­duc­tor Valery Khalilov. “The en­sem­ble has been or­phaned by a third,” said state channel Ros­siya.

The choir was set to per­form for Rus­sian troops at the Hmeimim air­base in Syria, which has been used to launch air strikes in sup­port of Moscow’s ally Pres­i­dent Bashar AlAs­sad. “These peo­ple were fly­ing to Syria to sup­port and wish happy hol­i­days to those who are serv­ing their mil­i­tary duty there,” Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev said af­ter open­ing a gov­ern­ment meet­ing, which held a mo­ment of silence.

Other pas­sen­gers in­cluded mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, jour­nal­ists and pop­u­lar char­ity worker Yeliza­veta Glinka, also known as Doc­tor Liza, who had been fly­ing with a cargo of med­i­cal sup­plies for a hos­pi­tal in the coastal city of Latakia. An­other pas­sen­ger was the head of the de­fense ministry’s cul­ture de­part­ment An­ton Gubankov, who worked to pop­u­larise the armed forces, in­clud­ing by au­thor­ing the song “Po­lite Peo­ple” which hon­ored spe­cial forces of­fi­cers who over­saw the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea.

Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin or­dered a na­tional day of mourn­ing yes­ter­day, with state tele­vi­sion flash­ing black and white pic­tures of the vic­tims across the screen while en­ter­tain­ment pro­grams were can­celled. Peo­ple brought flow­ers to im­pro­vised memo­ri­als at the port in cen­tral Sochi and the city’s air­port, as well as to the Moscow head­quar­ters of the Red Army Choir and the of­fice of Fair Aid, the NGO that Glinka headed, which pri­mar­ily worked with Moscow’s home­less.

“I know all of them. I can­not be­lieve it, can’t col­lect my­self,” said Vladimir Kuznetsov, a for­mer mem­ber of the Alexan­drov En­sem­ble who came to pay his re­spects. “They knew us all over the world, we went ev­ery­where,” he said of the troupe, hold­ing a can­dle in a plas­tic cup. Tu154 air­craft have been in­volved in a num­ber of ac­ci­dents in the past, in­clud­ing the April 2010 crash killing then-Pol­ish pres­i­dent Lech Kaczyn­ski and his del­e­ga­tion. They are no longer used by com­mer­cial air­lines in Rus­sia.


SOCHI: Peo­ple lay flow­ers along the pier in this Black Sea city yes­ter­day, a day af­ter a Rus­sian mil­i­tary plane crashed on its way to Syria.

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