92 feared dead as Russian plane with military band crashes en route to Syria
25 Dec, 2016
A rescue operation on the Black Sea coast at the crash site of Russian Defense Ministry’s TU-154 aircraft © Nina Zotina / Sputnik
According to preliminary reports, the Tupolev transport plane had 92 people on board, including 84 passengers and eight crew members. It went missing over the Black Sea at 2:40 GMT shortly after refueling at an airport near Sochi.
Most of the passengers on board were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the official choir of the Russian Armed Forces, the Russian Defense Ministry said. They were travelling from Moscow to the Russian military base Khmeimim near Latakia, Syria to take part in a Christmas celebration with troops deployed there. The head of the choir, conductor and composer Valery Khalilov, is among the 65 members of the ensemble presumed dead in the accident.
Crews from Channel One Russia, NTV, and Zvezda (the official media outlet of the Russian Defense Ministry), each with three members, were on board as well, the outlets confirmed.
The passenger list released by the defense ministry also includes Elizaveta Glinka, a prominent charity activist and humanitarian worker. She is best known by her blogger nickname “Doctor Liza.” Some reports initially said she may have deplaned in Sochi, but the Presidential Council for Human Rights confirmed that she was on board.
Search operation near the coast of the Black Sea where a Russian Defense Ministry Tu-154 plane crashed shortly after take-off © Nina Zotina / Sputnik
Glinka was best known for aiding children with serious conditions like cancer, homeless people, and other vulnerable individuals. In the past few years, she organized humanitarian missions to conflict zones, including eastern Ukraine and Syria. For her efforts, she was awarded the Order of Friendship in 2012, the fifth highest state award in Russia.
Helicopters dispatched from Sochi to search for the aircraft have discovered the crash site, the ministry reported.
“Hull fragments of the Tu-154 plane operated by the Defense Ministry have been found about 1.5 km off the Black Sea coast of Sochi at a depth of 50-70 meters,” the ministry said in a statement.
Around 3,000 people are involved in a search and rescue operation in the 10.5 square kilometer area, the defense ministry announced. The 24/7 operation is being conducted by 32 vessels with 80 divers on board, unmanned flying vehicles, and five helicopters, officials announced.
So far, no survivors have been found in the sea, local rescue services told Interfax.
At this point, it appears we did not receive data from the Russian Tu-154 that crashed after departure from Sochi.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) December 25, 2016
Meanwhile, rescue workers are gearing up for the night search for debris. A total of 17 light towers will be installed at the suspected crash site, each with a radius of up to 50 meters, the spokesperson for the Kuban-Spas (a department of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry) announced.
TASS reports that weather conditions in the regions were “favorable” to aviation. No civilian flights have been cancelled yet.
The crash is ‘a nationwide tragedy’
Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his condolences to the relatives of those onboard the ill-fated plane.
“I want to express my most sincere condolences to the families of our citizens who died in the plane crash in the Black Sea this morning. The government will do everything to provide support. Tomorrow will be a national day of mourning in Russia,” Putin told journalists in St. Petersburg.
Similar reaction poured in from the international community as well. “I express our sorrow to Russia – an important partner of Italy,” Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said as quoted by RIA.
His words were echoed by other high-ranking international officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “In her [Merkel] thoughts, she is with the relatives of the deceased,” vice-government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer announced.
Meanwhile people on social media are also expressing their grief over the tragedy.
“A terrible catastrophe. Condolences to the family and friends of the victims,” one tweet said.
— Anna (@RusAnn_) December 25, 2016
“I express my condolences to the families of those killed in a plane crash! Eternal memory [to them]…!” another person wrote.
— Джахангир Мамедов (@DjaxangirM) December 25, 2016
“This is a national tragedy,” Elena Scherbakova, director of a renowned Ensemble of Popular Dance of Igor Moiseyev, told RT. “People, artists, professionals died,” she said, calling Aleksandrov’s ensemble “one of the best” and “unique.”
“We always have been working together at the events dedicated to the most important dates in the history of our country. [Among those killed] were artists who finished a school of Moiseyev’s ensemble, including my students.”
“They are great professionals who always responded on a moment’s notice and worked in all of the hot spots,” Scherbakova told RT. She also expressed hopes that the young generation of Aleksandrov’s ensemble will “preserve the traditions” of the unit.
“We lost them, it’s terrible,” a famous Russian poet Ilya Reznik who wrote songs for the Alexandrov Ensemble, told journalists as he fought back tears.
The Tupolev Tu-154 is a three-engine medium-range transport plane designed in the 1960s. It is capable of carrying up to 180 passengers, depending on the version. There are about 50 aircraft of this type remaining in operation throughout the world, with the Russian Air Force having the biggest fleet.
The plane that crashed near Sochi was a Tu-154B-2 with registration number RA-85572. The passenger capacity was boosted to 180. The aircraft has been in service since 1983, according to the online registry russianplanes.net. The defense ministry said the plane spent 6,689 hours in flight.
Over the decades, there have been around four dozen fatal incidents involving the aircraft, most of which were due to pilot error or improper maintenance. One of the most widely publicized crashes happened in 2010 near Smolensk, Russia, when a Tu-154M of the Polish Air Force carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage crashed in foggy weather, killing all 96 people on board.
ST. PETERSBURG, December 25. /TASS/. The causes of the Tu-154 plane crash off the Sochi coast will be thoroughly investigated and the victims’ families will get all the necessary support, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday.
“A thorough investigation of the crash causes will be carried out and all efforts will be taken to support the families of the victims,” Putin told reporters.
“The government has been ordered to set up a commission that will be headed by the transport minister,” he added.
The president again offered his condolences to the families of the victims.
The Tu-154 plane from Russia’s Ministry of Defense vanished from radar screens at 05.40 a.m. Moscow time (02.40 a.m. GMT) shortly after taking off from the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
According to the latest information from Russia’s Defense Ministry, there were 92 people on board the aircraft, consisting of 8 crew members and 84 passengers. Among them was the Executive Director of the Spravedlivaya Pomoshch (Fair Aid) charity fund, Elizaveta Glinka, also better known to the Russian public as Dr. Liza, as well as servicemen and reporters, including from Channel One, Zvezda and NTV.
The plane was also carrying more than 60 members of the famous Alexandrov ensemble, an official army choir of the Russian armed forces, who set off to celebrate the New Year with the air group of Russia’s Aerospace Forces at the Hmeymim air base in Syria. The choir’s conductor Valery Khalilov was also on the list of passengers.
The Defense Ministry said that debris from the Tu-154 had been found 1.5 km off the coast of Sochi at the depth of 50-70 meters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to set up and head a government commission to look into the Tu-154 plane crash. The Investigative Committee announced that a criminal case was opened based on “the violation of rules of flights safety or preparation for them.”.