No bomb but probe continues on doomed Russian plane
Investigators have not ruled out terrorist attack
MOSCOW | Flight recorders revealed no evidence of an explosion on board a Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea, killing all 92 on board, but investigators haven’t ruled out foul play, a military official said Thursday.
Russian air force Lt. Gen. Sergei Bainetov, who heads the Defense Ministry commission conducting the crash probe, said that a cockpit conversation recorder contained the captain’s words that indicated a “special situation” that began unfolding on board the plane.
Gen. Bainetov wouldn’t elaborate on what may have led to the crash, but noted that it likely had been caused by several factors.
The Tu-154 of the Russian Defense Ministry crashed into the sea early Sunday, moments after taking off in good weather from the city of Sochi. It was carrying more than 60 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, widely known as the Red Army Choir, to a New Year’s concert at a Russian military base in Syria, as well as a noted campaigner for the rights of the homeless in Moscow.
The incident set off a wave of national grief across Russia, while immediately raising fears it could be tied to Russia’s aggressive military campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Gen. Bainetov said that the plane crashed 70 seconds after takeoff from an altitude of 820 feet while it was traveling at a speed of about 224 to 230 miles per hour.
“After deciphering the first flight recorder we have made a conclusion that there was no explosion on board,” Gen. Bainetov said at a news conference.
But asked if that means that investigators have ruled out a terror attack, he replied, “We aren’t ruling out that version yet.”
“A terror attack doesn’t always involve an explosion,” he said. “Along with an explosion on board, there could have been some mechanical impact.”
He wouldn’t offer any details, saying that Russian law-enforcement agencies are working on the case.
Bainetov’s words appeared to contradict a previous statement from Russia’s top domestic security and counterterrorism agency, the FSB, which has said it found “no indications or facts pointing at the possibility of a terror attack or an act of sabotage.”
It said investigators were looking into whether the crash might have been caused by bad fuel, pilot error, equipment failure or objects stuck in the engines.
Bainetov noted that “according to a preliminary assessment of information from the flight parameter recorder there had been no obvious equipment failures.”
Investigators also have taken samples from a fuel tank used to fill the plane, which flew from Moscow’s Chkalovsky military airport and stopped in Sochi for refueling.
In an apparent attempt to downplay Bainetov’s statement, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov emphasized that “the version of a terror attack isn’t being considered as the main version.”
Mr. Sokolov said search teams have completed the bulk of efforts to recover bodies and debris from the crash site. He said 19 bodies and more than 230 body fragments have been recovered, adding that 13 big fragments of the plane and about 2,000 smaller fragments have been pulled from the seabed.
Gen. Bainetov said that Syria-bound planes normally stop for refueling at the North Caucasus military air base in Mozdok, but the plane that crashed had been diverted to Sochi because of bad weather in Mozdok. Flights of the military’s Tu-154s have been suspended during the investigation.
Russian Emergency Situations Ministry press service, employees examine a fragment of a plane engine lifted by divers on a ship just outside Sochi, Russia. Investigators have determined that there was no bomb on the plane.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says search teams have recovered another flight recorder from a military plane that crashed in the Black Sea, killing all 92 aboard.