The main theories as to why the Tu-154 crashed off Sochi’s coast do not include a terrorist act, Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov said.
According to Sokolov, a “technical problem or piloting error” could have led to the disaster.
“Today, the main theories do not include terrorism, so we assume that either technical problems or a piloting error may have been the cause. But I stress that only an investigation, along with a special technical Ministry of Defense committee will tell us for sure,” the minister said at a briefing.
The search operation has been stepped up, with more ships, divers, and aircraft arriving on the scene.
Forty-five vessels and five helicopters, as well as drones, are now involved in the search operation, according to the latest information from the Russian Defense Ministry.
The search zone around the crash site has been expanded, the Emergency Ministry said.
The flight recorders of the crashed Tu-154 haven’t been recovered yet, the head of Russia’s Emergency Ministry, Vladimir Puchkov, told TASS.
The Tu-154 was initially supposed to refuel in the city of Mozdok in North Ossetia, but due to bad weather the plane was redirected to the airport in Adler, a Black Sea resort, “therefore, nobody knew beforehand that the plane would refuel at the airport in Sochi,” a security source told TASS.
After arriving in Adler, “only two border guards and one customs officer came onboard, and only one navigator shortly left the plane to control refueling,” the source added.
The Tu-154 transport plane had 92 people on board, including 84 passengers and eight crew members. It went missing over the Black Sea shortly after refueling at an airport near Sochi. Most of the passengers on board were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the official choir of the Russian Armed Forces.
They were traveling from Moscow to the Russian military base in Khmeimim near Latakia, Syria, to take part in a Christmas celebration with the troops deployed there. The head of the choir, conductor, and composer Valery Khalilov, was also onboard.
The passenger list released by the Defense Ministry on Saturday also includes Elizaveta Glinka, a revered charity activist and humanitarian worker best known by her nickname “Doctor Liza.”
Some 3,500 people are currently working in three shifts in the rescue operations in the area of the Tu-154 plane crash in Sochi. The first plane transporting the victims’ remains has arrived safely in Moscow at Chkalovsky airport outside the Russian capital on Monday.
Russia is observing a nationwide day of mourning for the victims of the Tu-154 crash on Monday.