More than 3,000 rescuers are searching the Black Sea after a Russian military plane crashed on its way to Syria, the defence ministry has said. All 84 passengers and eight crew members on the Tu-154 aircraft are believed to have died when it crashed two minutes after taking off from Sochi airport on Sunday. Among the passengers were dozens of singers in Russia’s world-famous military choir. Searchers on 32 ships were combing the crash site at sea and along the shore, the defence ministry said. The search operation covered more than 100 sq km (38 square miles) and involved planes, helicopters and drones.
I want to express my deepest condolences to families of our citizens who died. Tomorrow a nationwide mourning will be held in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Powerful spotlights were brought in so the search operation could continue around the clock. The cause of the plane crash is likely to be pilot error or a technical fault, the Russian transport minister has said. Terrorism was not among the main theories, Maxim Sokolov added. Experts said there were several factors that could suggest a terror attack, such as the crew’s failure to report any malfunction and the fact that plane debris was scattered over a wide area. The plane was taking the Alexandrov Ensemble - better known as the Red Army Choir - to perform at a New Year’s concert at the Russian air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia. Valery Khalilov, the choir’s conductor, perished in the crash.