Black box of crashed Rus­sian plane found

Kuwait Times - - NEWS -

Rus­sian res­cuers work­ing round the clock have found the main black box from the Syria-bound mil­i­tary plane that crashed into the Black Sea with 92 peo­ple on board, au­thor­i­ties said yesterday. The de­fense min­istry said the box, which could pro­vide vi­tal clues as to why the Tu-154 jet crashed, was dis­cov­ered early yesterday only 1,600 m from the shore and 17 m un­der the sur­face and was in “sat­is­fac­tory con­di­tion”. In­ves­ti­ga­tors were also look­ing at a wit­ness video of the abortive flight and the plane’s plunge into the sea.

The Tu-154 jet, whose pas­sen­gers in­cluded more than 60 mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned Red Army Choir, was head­ing to Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary air­base in Syria on Sun­day when it went down off the coast of Sochi shortly af­ter take-off from a re­fu­el­ing stop at the air­port. In­ves­ti­ga­tors said they have sorted and doc­u­mented thou­sands of pas­sen­gers’ per­sonal items and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments, ques­tioned lo­cals and are check­ing the fuel equip­ment at the air­port. One wit­ness “filmed the take­off, flight and fall of the plane into the sea”, the In­ves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee said in a state­ment.

The dis­cov­ery of the black box comes as searchers scramble to re­cover bod­ies and re­main­ing de­bris from the air­craft in an op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing divers, deep-wa­ter ma­chines, he­li­copters and drones. The de­fense min­istry said that five plane frag­ments, in­clud­ing part of the fuse­lage and en­gine, were found overnight 30 m un­der­wa­ter at around 1,700 m from the shore. Searchers later found an ad­di­tional three frag­ments, in­clud­ing land­ing gear and a por­tion of the en­gine, the min­istry said.

Rus­sia’s fed­eral se­cu­rity ser­vice has said it is look­ing into four sus­pected causes of the crash, namely pi­lot er­ror, tech­ni­cal fail­ure, faulty fuel and an ob­ject in the en­gine. The de­fense min­istry said a to­tal of 12 bod­ies and 156 body frag­ments had been re­cov­ered from the sea since the crash, all of which are being sent to Moscow for DNA iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. The Kom­m­er­sant daily news­pa­per re­ported that in­ves­ti­ga­tors are re­ly­ing on a wit­ness state­ment by a coast­guard mem­ber who saw the plane in its fi­nal mo­ments de­scend­ing to­wards the sea with its nose tilted sharply up­ward. Au­thor­i­ties have not said how long it would take to de­ci­pher the black box.

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. The FSB said one cus­toms of­fi­cer and one bor­der guard com­ing on board as it was being fu­elled while the cap­tain and one other crew mem­ber came out. 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 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 Al-As­sad. De­fense min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu has pledged to re­store the choir “in the near­est fu­ture”. Other pas­sen­gers in­cluded mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, jour­nal­ists and pop­u­lar char­ity worker Yeliza­veta Glinka, af­fec­tion­ately known as “Doc­tor Liza”, who was bring­ing med­i­cal sup­plies to a hos­pi­tal in the coastal Syr­ian city of Latakia.

Rus­sia ob­served a day of mourn­ing Mon­day and Sochi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced yesterday that it is can­celling the New Year’s Eve cel­e­bra­tion on its main square due to the tragedy. Peo­ple have been bring­ing 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.

Tu-154 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. Asked whether all Tu-154 planes would be grounded, Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov re­ferred jour­nal­ists to the trans­porta­tion min­istry, while Trans­port Min­is­ter Mak­sim Sokolov called the model “rather re­li­able”. — AFP

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