Massive search in Black Sea for Russia plane crash bodies

Ministry of Emergency Situations employees search for bodies by a boat in the Black Sea, off Sochi, Russia, Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. All 84 passengers and eight crew members on the Russian military's Tu-154 plane are believed to have died Sunday morning when it crashed two minutes after taking off from the southern Russian city of Sochi. (AP Photo/Viktor Klyushin)

Thousands of rescuers were searching for bodies in the Black Sea as Russia marked a day of mourning on Monday following the crash of a Syria-bound military plane carrying 92 people. The Tu-154 jet, whose passengers included more than 60 members of the internationally-renowned Red Army Choir who were heading to entertain Russian troops in Syria for the New Year, went down off the resort city of Sochi shortly after take-off on Sunday. The first 10 bodies have been flown in to the capital Moscow amid a national outpouring of grief.

Investigators have yet to confirm the cause of the crash, but Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov told a televised briefing on Monday that authorities do not believe the plane was taken out by a terrorist attack. “There could be various causes – they are being analysed by specialists, experts, the Investigative Committee,” he said, adding that active theories ranged from human error to a problem with the fuel.

“Currently the main versions do not include an act of terror,” he added. More than 3,000 workers laboured through the night, racing to find the remaining bodies and debris – including the black boxes crucial to tracking the plane’s final moments – before the currents carry them further away from shore.

The search operation included 39 vessels covering over 100 square kilometres, with planes, helicopters and drones searching from above and deep-water equipment and divers hunting below the surface. “I think we will be able to find the location of the plane on the bottom of the Black Sea today,” Viktor Bondarev, the commander of the Russian air force, told Russian agencies.

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