Russian jet with 92 aboard crashes into Black Sea; Putin orders inquiry

A Tupolev Tu-154 airliner and Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bombers on their way from the Hmeymim air base to their permanent base in Russia in this image from March.
TASS | Getty Images
A Tupolev Tu-154 airliner and Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bombers on their way from the Hmeymim air base to their permanent base in Russia in this image from March.

A Russian passenger plane with 92 people aboard, including a well-known military band, crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday minutes after takeoff from the resort city of Sochi, the Defense Ministry said.

The Tu-154, which belonged to the Defense Ministry, was taking the Alexandrov choir to a concert at the Russian air base in Syria.

A total of 84 passengers and eight crew members were on board the plane when it dropped off of radars minutes after taking off in good weather. Emergency services found fragments about 1.5 kilometers (less than one mile) from shore at a depth of 50 to 70 meters (165 to 230 feet.) The cause of the crash wasn't immediately known.

Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement on Sunday in which he expressed his sympathies with the families of those affected, and laid out steps for a formal inquiry. He also called for a national day of mourning on Monday.

"First of all I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of our citizens who died as a result of the air catastrophe over the Black Sea this morning," Putin said.

The government was instructed to set up a commission lead by the minister of transport. A thorough investigation of the causes of the catastrophe will be held, and we will do everything to support the families of the victims."

Nine Russian journalists, including a TV crew from Channel One, were also among the passengers. The plane was headed to the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was personally coordinating the rescue efforts, and President Vladimir Putin has received official reports on the incident.

The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s. More than 1,000 have been built, and they have been used extensively by carriers in Russia and worldwide.

In recent years, Russian airlines have replaced their Tu-154s with more modern planes, but the military and some other government agencies in Russia have continued to use them.

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