Russia’s transport minister says investigators are looking into all possible reasons behind why a Russian military plane crashed into the Black Sea with 92 people on board, including the option of a terror attack.
Earlier, a Russian official had downplayed any suggestion of a terror attack. But on Sunday afternoon, after being asked if investigators are looking into a possible terror attack, minister Maxim Sokolov said an “entire spectrum” of possible reasons is being considered.
He added it’s premature to speculate about the cause of Sunday’s crash.
The Tu-154 plane belonging to the Defense Ministry crashed into the Black Sea two minutes after take off on Sunday morning from the Russian city of Sochi.
The plane was heading to Syria, carrying members of the world-famous Russian army choir to a New Year concert at the Russian military base.
All aboard are believed to have died, and so far rescuers have recovered 10 bodies.
A Russian military plane carrying 92 people, including dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, has crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria with no reports of survivors.
The Russian Defence Ministry said one of its TU-154 planes had disappeared from radar screens at 5.25 on Sunday morning, two minutes after taking off from Adler in southern Russia, where it had stopped to refuel from Moscow, en route to Syria.
An unnamed ministry source told Russian news agencies that those on board had almost no chance of surviving and that no life rafts had been found.
Interfax cited another unnamed source as saying the plane had not sent an SOS signal.
The jet, a Soviet-era design first introduced in the 1970s, had been carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a ministry spokesman told reporters.
At least 60 were members of the Red Army Choir, also known as the Alexandrov Ensemble, who were being flown out to Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria to entertain troops in the run-up to the New Year.
Nine Russian reporters had also been on board as well as military servicemen.
Konashenkov said fragments of the plane had been found at a depth of about 70 metres in the Black Sea about 1.5 km off the coast near the city of Sochi.
“The search operation is continuing,” said Konashenkov. “Four ships, five helicopters and a drone are working in the area,” he said, saying a military commission had flown to Sochi to look into what happened.
The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed source in the emergency services as saying about six bodies had already been recovered from the sea.
Russia’s RIA news agency, citing an unidentified security source, said preliminary information indicated that the plane had crashed because of a technical malfunction or a pilot error.
Another source told Russian agencies that the possibility of a militant act had been ruled out. The weather had been good.
According to the defence ministry’s list of passengers, Elizaveta Glinka, a member of Putin’s advisory human rights council, was on the plane. Her mobile phone was switched off when Reuters called her on Sunday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Sunday it was too early to say what had caused the crash.
President Vladimir Putin was being kept constantly informed of the latest developments, Peskov said.
Russian military investigators said in a statement they had opened a criminal investigation into the crash.
The Kremlin said Putin expressed his deepest condolences to those who had lost loved ones in the crash and ordered Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to head a government investigatory commission into the crash.
Russia’s Defence Ministry regularly flies musicians into Syria to put on concerts for military personnel.
The base they were heading for, Hmeymim, is in Latakia province. It is from there that Russia launches air strikes against Syrian rebels.