A Russian military jet carrying 92 passengers and crew—including 60 members of the world-famous Red Army Choir—crashed into the Black Sea shortly after takeoff from an airport in Sochi.
The TU-154 passenger jet was on its way to Syria, where the Red Army Choir was scheduled to entertain the troops at an airbase.
“The area of the crash site has been established. No survivors have been spotted,” he said. An unnamed ministry source told Russian news agencies no life rafts had been found, while another source told the Interfax agency that the plane had not sent an SOS signal.
In televised comments, President Vladimir Putin, speaking in St. Petersburg, declared Dec. 26 a national day of mourning.
The jet, a Soviet-era Tupolev plane built in 1983, had been carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members.
At least 60 were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, better known internationally as the Red Army Choir, and 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 were also on board as well as military servicemen.
Konashenkov said fragments of the plane had been found at a depth of about 70 meters (yards) in the Black Sea about 1.5 km (1 mile) off the coast near the city of Sochi.
“The search operation is continuing,” said Konashenkov. “Four ships, four helicopters, and a plane and a drone are working in the area,” he said, saying a military commission had flown to Sochi to look into what happened.
Six ships from Russia’s Black Sea fleet were on their way to the crash site, and more than 100 divers were being drafted in to search the area along with a mini-submarine.
Konashenkov said four bodies had been recovered from the sea. Russian news agencies cited a higher figure.
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.
Konashenkov said the plane had last been serviced in September and undergone more major repairs in December 2014. He said the pilot was experienced and that the plane had about 7,000 flying hours on its clock.
According to the defense ministry’s passenger manifest, Elizaveta Glinka, a member of Putin’s advisory human rights council, was on the plane.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters it was too early to say what had caused the crash. Putin was being kept constantly informed of the latest developments, Peskov said.
A routine criminal investigation into the crash has been opened but so far there is no indication that terrorism brought the plane down.
The TU-154 has been the workhorse of the Russian air industry—both military and non-military—for more than 50 years. The last fatal incident involving the plane was in 2010 when the Polish president and many of his advisers were killed in a crash shortly after takeoff.
The Red Army Choir members who died in the crash belonged to the Alexandrov Ensemble, named after the founding director of the choir. It is a tragic blow to one of the most famed musical organizations in the world. They may be best known in America for their work on the soundtrack of The Hunt for Red October, in which they sang several Russian folk tunes.