Russian search teams are continuing a huge operation in the Black Sea after a military plane with 92 people on board crashed on Christmas Day.
Some 3,500 people on ships, jets, helicopters and submersibles are involved in the operation near Sochi.
The Tupolev Tu-154 plane – carrying soldiers, members of famed Alexandrov army music ensemble and reporters – was heading for Syria.
All those on board are feared dead after yesterday’s crash.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a national day of mourning on Monday, December 26.
At a briefing on December 26, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that search teams – including 139 divers – worked through the night in three shifts, and the operation “did not stop for a minute”.
Igor Konashenkov said that 11 bodies and “154 fragments” have been found since the operation began.
Image source WIkimedia
Overnight, he added, powerful spotlights were used to search the crash area.
The 4 square miles search area just off the coast had been extended, the spokesman said.
Ten of the bodies have already been sent back to Moscow for identification, media reports say.
On December 26, Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov said that terrorism was not “among the main versions” of the possible causes of the crash.
He reiterated that investigators were looking into whether a pilot error or technical fault may have brought down the aircraft.
The minister earlier stressed that it was too early to speculate on possible crash causes.
Russian media quoted Aerospace Forces Commander Viktor Bondarev as saying that the plane’s black boxes had been located and they were not likely to have been damaged.
The aircraft disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from Sochi’s Adler airport at 05:25AM local time, heading for Latakia in Syria, the defense ministry said.
The flight had originated in Moscow and landed in Sochi for refueling.
It was carrying 64 members of the famed Alexandrov Ensemble, who were to perform for Russian troops in Syria.
An audio recording played on Russian media and said to be of the final conversation between air traffic controllers and the plane reveals no sign of any difficulties.
Voices remain calm until the plane disappears and the controllers try in vain to re-establish contact.
The plane came into service in 1983.
Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the plane was last serviced in September and had undergone more substantial repairs in December 2014. It had an “experienced” pilot, he said.
43 people died in a Yakovlev Yak-42 plane crash near the city of Yaroslavl in Central Russia on Wednesday afternoon. The majority of victims were members of the local top ice hockey team Lokomotiv.
Of the 45 people on board, only two survived, Russia Today reported at the scene of the tragedy.
Lokomotiv Ice Hockey Team was killed in a plane crash in Yaroslavl
The aircraft went down and caught fire shortly after taking to the air. According to preliminary reports, the plane had insufficient lift and hit a beacon tower. An air traffic controller told Itar-Tass, that the aircraft was some 50 to 60 meters above the ground when it tilted to the left and crashed.
The crash site is about 2,500 meters from the runway. The accident happened just next to the Volga River and some fragments of the aircraft and bodies of the victims fell into the water. So far 29 bodies have been recovered from the site, according to local rescue services.
Hockey Club Lokomotiv (KHL) confirmed that its entire 37-strong main squad was on board of the crashed plane. The hockey team was traveling to the Belarusian capital Minsk.
Some of the victims were foreign players for the club. The squad included players from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden.
The two survivors are in a serious condition and have been taken to hospital.
One of the survivors is a hockey team member Aleksandr Galimov.
The other survivor is a flight engineer, according to preliminary reports.
“Galimov has burns to 80 per cent of his body, the crew member has broken bones and lacerations in addition to massive burns,” Dr. Viktor Berezing from the hospital’s burn trauma department told Interfax.
Russian aviation authorities said the Yak-42 underwent all the routine checks before being cleared for the flight and was in good condition.
The today plane crash is the first-ever fatal crash involving a sports team in modern Russia.
Soviet Union’s worst incident of this kind was the 1979 mid-air collision of two Tupolev Tu-134s in Dniprodzerzhynsk, Ukraine. Seventeen players and staff of the then-Soviet top-division Pakhtakor Football Club team died in the crash.
The Yaroslavl HC Lokomotiv team was Russian Champions in 1997, 2002 and 2003.
The top hockey squad was to play a match against Minsk HC Dinamo on Thursday.
The heads of the Lokomotiv hockey club are currently in an urgent meeting to discuss the measures to be taken following the tragic crash and death of the Yaroslavl team.
The Salavat Ulaev versus Atlant match, which is the opening battle of the league season, was cancelled by this time.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is to visit the crash site on Thursday. Medvedev offered his condolences to the relatives of the victims and to fans of the club over the tragedy.
Visitors of the International Political Forum, who are visiting Yaroslavl at the moment, held a minute’s silence to commemorate the victims of the crash. The Russian Hockey Federation voiced its condolences to the Lokomotiv club, the families of the victims and the entire ice hockey community.
Hockey fans in Moscow are gathering in Red Square near the Kremlin to honor the deceased Lokomotiv players and the other victims of the crash.
In Minsk, people are laying flowers in front of the stadium where the team was scheduled to play on Thursday. Yaroslavl fans are meeting at one of the city’s squares to mark the loss of their team.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation into the incident and sent a team of forensic experts from Moscow to Yaroslavl, according to the spokesman for the committee, Vladimir Markin.
The Interstate Aviation Committee, a regional regulating body, has launched its own probe into the cause of the crash.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered Transport Minister Igor Levitin to organize the initial part of the investigation at the scene.