A Russian military aircraft crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, and none of the 92 people on board were expected to have survived, according to the Russian defence ministry.
Among those on board the Tupolev-154 were members of the well-known Alexandrov Choir, who were to perform at Hmeymim air base. From that base, in Latakia province, Russia has flown most of the air strikes that ultimately helped turn the Syrian civil war in favor of president Bashar al-Assad.
The aircraft, which had come from Moscow, departed from Sochi at 5.30am local time after a refueling stop and disappeared from the radar within minutes. By mid-morning the defence ministry said a search mission had spotted the wreckage and some bodies off the Black Sea coast.
Coming only days after Russia’s ambassador Andrei Karlov was shot dead in the Turkish capital of Ankara by a gunman who invoked the Syrian city of Aleppo, the crash could again draw attention to Moscow’s military campaign in Syria — not a big topic for public opinion in the country so far.
According to a passenger list published by the defence ministry, the aircraft carried 64 members of the choir, nine journalists, eight soldiers, two other government officials, one aid worker and a crew of eight.
On the list was Elizaveta Glinka, a prominent aid worker widely known as “Dr Liza”, who was to bring medicines to the university hospital in Latakia. “We hoped for a miracle until the end. She herself was a miracle, a heavenly messenger of virtue,” Mikhail Fedotov, head of the presidential human rights council, said in an obituary.
Russian media quoted anonymous sources as saying investigators were focusing on a technical malfunction as potential cause of the crash. But the Kremlin said it was too early to speculate about the cause.
The Tupolev 154, designed in the 1960s, was the standard aircraft model in civil aviation during the later Soviet years and the period after the collapse of the USSR. While Russian state carrier Aeroflot has since replaced most Tupolevs with new imported Boeing or Airbus aircraft, the Russian military continues to use many aging Tupolevs.
The age of the aircraft could not immediately be confirmed. The defence ministry said it was flown by experienced pilot. The Tupolev was last repaired in 2014 and had undergone a maintenance check this year.
The Investigative Committee, the federal government body that probes large and severe criminal cases, opened a criminal investigation into the crash — a routine measure.
President Vladimir Putin sent condolences to the families of the victims and ordered Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to personally oversee a government investigation into the crash.
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