A Russian military jet that was en route to Syria disappeared from radar on Sunday. Russian authorities say that it crashed into the Black Sea. Reportedly, all 92 people on board were killed, including at least 60 members of the Red Army Choir.
Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a ministry spokesman, told reporters, “The area of the crash site has been established. No survivors have been spotted.” But he added, “The search operation is continuing,” and “four ships, four helicopters, and a plane and a drone are working in the area.” Six ships, a mini-submarine and 100 divers have also been enlisted to search the area.
Conflicting reports say that four or more bodies have been recovered and an unnamed source from the ministry told Russian media that no life rafts had been spotted.
The jet was a TU-154 Tupolev that was built in 1983. It reportedly underwent “major repairs” in December 2014 and was last serviced in September of this year. Russia’s RIA news agency cites an unnamed military source who says that a technical malfunction or pilot error was to blame. Another unidentified source said that a militant act was not believed to be responsible.
Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, told the Russian news agency, Sputnik:
I rule out version of the terror attack completely. It is the aircraft of the Ministry of Defense, the airspace of the Russian Federation, there cannot be such a version... The plane had to make a U-turn after takeoff over the sea (and) may (have taken) the wrong direction.
In addition to the choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, nine Russian reporters, eight crew members and Elizaveta Glinka, a member of Putin’s advisory human rights council, were on board.
The jet initially departed from Moscow and landed in Sochi to refuel. From there it was intended to land at the Hmeymim air base in Syria where the choir would entertain military personnel. The base is used for Russian airstrikes in the ongoing Syrian civil war.
President Vladimir Putin has called for an investigation and declared December 26th a national day of mourning.