No bomb but probe con­tin­ues on doomed Rus­sian plane

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have not ruled out ter­ror­ist attack

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

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.

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