Plane carrying 92 crashes into Black Sea near Sochi

Monday, December 26, 2016

A military plane carrying 92 people crashed into the Black Sea two minutes after departing Sochi, Russia yesterday.

The crashed aircraft in May this year.
Image: Alexander Usanov.

The Tupolev Tu-154 was heading to Syria and was carrying 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, Russia's military choir. Nobody is thought to have survived. At least eleven bodies have been recovered and 100 divers deployed on-scene. President Vladimir Putin has ordered a probe; investigators have yet to rule out sabotage.

The 84 passengers and eight crew were headed to Hmeymim Air Base to entertain Russian forces. Musicians, dancers, and journalists are among the dead. Choir leader Valery Khalilov and philanthropist doctor Yelizaveta Glinka, who was taking donated medical supplies to Syria, were on board. Nine journalists representing three national TV stations were also passengers.

Glinka served as a human rights advisor to Putin. The journalists were from official broadcasters NTV, First Channel, and Zvezda.

An official statement said Putin sent "deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the crash". He has tasked Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev with organising an investigatory commission. The defence ministry said a military commission was in Sochi to investigate. "Four ships, five helicopters and a drone are working in the area," a defence spokesperson said.

The Tu-154 is a Soviet-era three-engined jet. It crashed after leaving Sochi International Airport at 5.40am local time. Debris has been found around 1.5km (a mile) offshore in water about 50–70m (160–230 feet) deep. Sochi was a stopoff for the plane, which began its journey in Moscow.

Russian media broadcast what was claimed to be an air traffic control recording showing no sign of impending disaster; the flight crew speak calmly, then suddenly stop responding. Weather was good at the time.

Putin has declared today a day of national mourning. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent condolences to him. "The plane had dear friends who had come to join us and the people of Aleppo in their joy with victory and Christmas feasts", he said. The Syrian President also told Putin "our sorrows and joys are one" and the two nations are united to "fight to lay the foundations of stability, security and peace".