A Russian military plane with 92 people on board, including members of a famed army choir, has crashed into the Black Sea shortly after taking off, the Russian defence ministry has said.
The Russian defence ministry said on Sunday there was no sign of survivors, as President Vladimir Putin announced a national day of mourning.
Local news agencies, citing the defence ministry, said the Tu-154 plane had departed from the southern Russian city of Adler on Sunday moring and was heading towards Latakia in Syria.
A list of passengers and crew published by the ministry showed that 64 members of the renowned Alexandrov Ensemble, the army’s official choir, and its conductor Valery Khalilov were on board the plane.
Members of the choir were travelling to Syria to celebrate the New Year with Russian troops.
The defence mininstry said a widely revered Russian charity doctor was also on board the plane, in addition to nine journalists, a Russian army general and five colonels.
“The site of the Tu-154 plane crash has been identified,” news agencies quoted the ministry as saying, adding that four bodies had been recovered from the water.
The Russian defence ministry said that the Alexandrov Ensemble was to perform at the Khmeimim airbase, Russia’s main base of operations for its military campaign in support of the Syrian government.
Russia has been supporting its longtime ally Syria with a bombing campaign against rebel groups for more than a year.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday he was “saddened” by the crash.
In a condolence message sent to President Putin, Assad said the two countries were partners in the “fight to lay the foundations of stability, security and peace” in Syria.
Viktor Ozerov, head of Russia’s defence affairs committee at the upper house of Russian parliament, said in remarks carried by the state news agency RIA Novosti that he “totally excludes terrorism” as a possible cause of the crash.
Bodies and debris found
Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a ministry spokesman, 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.
Other news agencies reported that parts of the plane and undercarriage, and also an oil slick were found over an area covering several kilometres in the Black Sea.