A Russian Tu-154 plane with 93 people on board has crashed into the Black Sea, the defense ministry has said.
The military plane disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from the resort of Sochi at 05:25AM local time. Debris and one body have been found, with no reports of any survivors.
The Russian defense ministry said the Tu-154 was carrying soldiers, 65 members of the famed Alexandrov military music ensemble, and nine reporters.
The plane was flying to Latakia in Syria.
The flight originated in Moscow and had landed at Adler airport in Sochi for refueling.
The Russian defense ministry said in a statement: “Fragments of the Tu-154 plane of the Russian defense ministry were found 1.5km [one mile] from the Black Sea coast of the city of Sochi at a depth of 50 to 70m [165-230ft.”
Image source WIkimedia
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 being faced by the crew.
Voices remain calm until the plane disappears and the controllers try in vain to re-establish contact.
Reports from the area said flying conditions were favorable.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a state commission to look into the crash and sent his condolences to the families and friends of the victims.
The defense ministry has published a passenger list, showing that 65 of those on board were from the Alexandrov Ensemble, including its director, Valery Khalilov.
There were 9 journalists, 8 soldiers, two civil servants and eight crew members.
Also on board was Elizaveta Glinka, known as Dr. Liza, the executive director of the Fair Aid charity and the inaugural winner of Russia’s state prize for achievements in human rights.
The plane was carrying passengers to a New Year’s performance for Russian troops deployed in Syria.
The performance was scheduled to take place at Russia’s Hmeimim air base, near Latakia.
Russia has been carrying out air strikes in support of Syrian government forces who are battling rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the Slovenia Ski Association (SAS), there are “serious doubts” over the validity of a 2014 Winter Olympic qualifier that saw violinist Vanessa-Mae Vanakorn Nicholson secure her place at Sochi.
Vanessa-Mae, 35, qualified days before the deadline after competing in the hastily-staged races in Slovenia.
Four Slovenian ski officials have been suspended but SAS director Yuri Zurej said no athletes are facing an inquiry.
There are serious doubts over the validity of a 2014 Winter Olympic qualifier that saw violinist Vanessa-Mae Vanakorn Nicholson secure her place at Sochi
Yuri Zurej said irregularities they had discovered included the SAS being incorrectly named as co-organizer of the event, while one competitor was recorded as finishing fourth, despite not actually being present.
The Singaporean-born British violinist and alpine skier competed at Sochi for Thailand under her father’s name Vanakorn.
Vanessa-Mae finished last of 67 competitors in the giant slalom, 50 seconds adrift of winner Tina Maze.
Medals to be won today: Bobsleigh (four-man), cross country skiing (men’s mass start), ice hockey (men’s gold).
07:00 Cross country skiing – men’s mass start.
Sochi Winter Olympics 2014
09:30 Bobsleigh – four-man third and fourth heats.
12:00 Ice hockey – men’s final.
16:00 Closing ceremony. The last action of the Sochi Olympic Games features speeches, the lowering of the Olympic flag and a ceremonial handing-over to Pyeongchang, South Korea, which will host the next Winter Games in 2018. However, Sochi’s Games are by no means over – the Winter Paralympics begin on March 7 and run until March 16.
Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak has dismissed the Sochi attack on protest group Pussy Riot.
Five members of punk group Pussy Riot and a cameraman were attacked by Cossack security patrols as they performed under a sign advertising the Winter Olympics on Wednesday.
Footage showed the Cossacks whipping band members, pulling off their ski masks, and throwing them to the ground.
“The girls came here specifically to provoke this conflict,” Dmitry Kozak said.
“They had been searching for it for some time and finally they had this conflict with local inhabitants.”
Security in Sochi was a major concern before the Olympic Games following two suicide bomb attacks in Volgograd, in which 34 people died.
But Dmitry Kozak said he had always had confidence in security staff ensuring the Games remained safe.
Five members of punk group Pussy Riot and a cameraman were attacked by Cossack security patrols in Sochi
The security procedures included hiring Cossack patrols to help police during the Olympics.
“We were certain that our security forces would be able to complete the tasks given to them,” he said.
“Security threats today are of a global nature, with terrorist organizations, so of course we were concerned about that.
“The Olympic Games became a target for the terrorists, but our law enforcement agencies and our special forces, in co-operation with all the countries of the world, all the special services in the world, including Great Britain, joined in the effort to prevent terrorism. All of us have fulfilled this task brilliantly.”
Dmitry Kozak also dismissed allegations of corruption and embezzlement in relation to money spent on the Games, which are estimated to have cost $50 billion.
“We had tough control over the budget money,” he said.
“According to the results of the investigation we did not find any major incidents of corruption.
“We ask anyone who says that there is to provide specific fact of the corruption. If they do we will carry out investigations and, if proved, the culprits will be punished. But so far we do not have this information, so it is just speculation.”
Medals to be won today: Alpine skiing (men’s slalom), biathlon (men’s relay), cross country skiing (women’s mass start), ice hockey (men’s bronze), snowboard (parallel slalom), speed skating (team pursuit).
Canadian Justine Dufour-Lapointe and her sister Chloe Dufour-Lapointe won gold and silver in the women’s moguls at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.
Hopes of a family podium sweep were ended after Justine and Chloe’s sister Maxime failed to make the final phase.
Defending champion Hannah Kearney from the US won bronze after a disappointing performance in the final run of the competition.
Japan’s Aiko Uemura was beaten into fourth for the second successive Games.
Justine Dufour-Lapointe and her sister Chloe Dufour-Lapointe won gold and silver in the women’s moguls at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games
Justine Dufour-Lapointe, 19, went through a technically precise final run to score 22.44 points with her 22-year-old sister following with a solid run but coming up .78 points short of the winning score.
They were just the third pair of sisters to win gold and silver in the same event at a Winter Olympics. The others were Christine and Marielle Goitschel of France in 1964 and Doris and Angelika Neuner of Austria in 1992.
“It’s the best feeling, they did it! They did it!” shouted the sisters’ watching father Yves Dufour-Lapointe.
Hannah Kearney scored 21.49 in what is set to be her final Winter Olympics.
President Vladimir Putin met his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics, officials say.
Neither side would confirm what was discussed during the informal conversation during the opening ceremony in the Russian city of Sochi.
Russia has frozen delivery of a $15 billion bailout program pending the formation of a new government in Kiev.
Mass anti-government protests erupted in Ukraine in late November.
Vladimir Putin met his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics
Under pressure from Moscow, Viktor Yanukovych had refused to sign a far-reaching association and trade agreement with the EU.
Amid continuing protests, Viktor Yanukovych has accepted the resignation of PM Mykola Azarov – widely seen as pro-Moscow – and a new prime minister has yet to be nominated.
The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovych in Sochi on Friday evening was confirmed by senior Russian and Ukrainian officials.
There was no information about what was discussed, but correspondents speculate it was likely to include the suspended Russian financial package – which Ukraine desperately needs in the face of a sliding currency, dwindling foreign reserves and rising borrowing costs.
Viktor Yanukovych’s meeting with Vladimir Putin follows talks in Kiev last Wednesday between Yanukovych and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Sochi has opened the 22nd Winter Olympics with a spectacular ceremony.
More than 2,900 athletes from 87 nations paraded before 40,000 people in the Fisht Stadium before President Vladimir Putin declared the Games open.
The Olympic flame was lit by Russian former triple gold medalists Vladislav Tretiak and Irina Rodnina as fireworks illuminated the night sky.
At a cost of $50 billion, the Sochi Games is the most expensive Olympics in history.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach used his welcome speech at the ceremony to promote Olympic values of diversity and non-discrimination.
“The Olympics are about building bridges to bring people together,” Thomas Bach said.
“They are not about erecting walls to keep people apart. Embrace human diversity and unity.”
President Barack Obama and UK’s PM David Cameron stayed away from the ceremony, which was attended by 44 heads of state.
Vladimir Putin avoided making a political statement as he stuck to protocol by using a single sentence to declare the Games open.
Sochi has opened the 22nd Winter Olympics with a spectacular ceremony
Spectators inside the stadium and television viewers worldwide were treated to a glittering show lasting nearly three hours and featuring 22 tonnes of fireworks.
In a grand finale, tennis star Maria Sharapova, who grew up in Sochi, carried the Olympic flame into the stadium before it passed through the hands of pole vault world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva, wrestler Aleksandr Karelin and gymnast Alina Kabaeva,
It was carried out of the arena by former figure skater Irina Rodnina and ice hockey player Vladislav Tretiak, who lit the cauldron in the middle of the Olympic park while Igor Stravinksy’s Firebird Suite filled the stadium.
In a break from Olympic tradition, the teams had earlier entered in the order of the Russian alphabet, with the host nation coming in last to deafening cheers.
Athletes from the competing nations appeared to emerge from their country’s map courtesy of a dazzling light show.
While some nations – including Nepal, Mexico and Pakistan – are sending only one competitor, the US team of 230 athletes is the largest in the history of the Winter Games.
The US have never appeared at an Olympics on Russian soil having boycotted the Moscow summer Games in 1980.
The ceremony featured a colorful journey through Russian history, celebrating the country’s rich heritage in art, music and ballet, with 3,000 performers and 2,000 volunteers taking part.
In a moving sequence the lights were lowered as performers, dressed in white to symbolize peace, danced to the strains of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Hosting an Olympics for the first time since 1980, Russian athletes are under pressure to improve on the embarrassment of 11th place at the last Winter Games in Vancouver.
Russia has devoted $940 million to elite winter sport since winning the bid to host these Games seven years ago.
The first medals of the Games will be decided on Saturday with five golds up for grabs in biathlon, cross country skiing, freestyle skiing, snowboarding and speed skating.