Russian plane crash probe rules out explosion

© The Associated Press In this photo taken on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016 photo provided by the Russian Emergency Ministry Press Service, ministry employees lift a fragment of a plane in the Black Sea, outside Sochi, Russia.

Russian plane crash probe rules out explosion

MOSCOW — Flight recorders revealed no evidence of an explosion on board a Russian plane that crashed, killing all 92 on board, but investigators haven't ruled out a deliberate mechanical impact to down the plane, a military official said Thursday.

Russian air force Lt.Gen. Sergei Bainetov, who heads the Defense Ministry commission conducting the crash probe, said that a cockpit conversation recorder contained the captain's words that indicated a "special situation" that began unfolding on board the plane.

Bainetov wouldn't elaborate on what may have led to the crash, but noted that it likely had been caused by several factors.

The Tu-154 of the Russian Defense Ministry crashed into the sea early Sunday, moments after taking off in good weather from the city of Sochi. It was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, widely known as the Red Army Choir, to a New Year's concert at a Russian military base in Syria.

Bainetov said that the plane crashed 70 seconds after takeoff from an altitude of 250 meters (820 feet) while it was traveling at a speed of 360-370 kilometers per hour (224-230 miles per hour).

"After deciphering the first flight recorder we have made a conclusion that there was no explosion on board," Bainetov said at a news conference.

But asked if that means that investigators have ruled out a terror attack, Bainetov said "we aren't ruling that version yet."

"A terror attack doesn't always involve an explosion," he said. "Along with an explosion on board, there could have been some mechanical impact."

He wouldn't offer any details, saying that Russian law-enforcement agencies are working on the case.

Bainetov's words appeared to contradict a previous statement from Russia's top domestic security and counter-terrorism agency, the FSB, which has said it found "no indications or facts pointing at the possibility of a terror attack or an act of sabotage."

It said investigators were looking into whether the crash might have been caused by bad fuel, pilot error, equipment failure or objects stuck in the engines.

Investigators have taken samples from a fuel tank used to fill the plane, which flew from Moscow's Chkalovsky military airport and stopped in Sochi for refueling.

In an apparent attempt to downplay Bainetov's statement, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov emphasized that "the version of a terror attack isn't being considered as the main version."

Sokolov said search teams have completed the bulk of efforts to recover bodies and debris from the crash site. He said 19 bodies and more than 230 body fragments have been recovered, adding that 13 big fragments of the plane and about 2,000 smaller fragments also have been pulled from the seabed.

Bainetov said that flights of the military's Tu-154s have been suspended during the investigation but said they will likely resume after the investigation is over.

The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s. Russian airlines decommissioned the noisy, fuel-guzzling aircraft years ago, but the military and other government agencies continue using the plane, which is still loved by crews for its maneuverability and sturdiness.

The plane that crashed Sunday was built in 1983 and underwent factory checkups and maintenance in 2014, and earlier this year. Investigators have taken relevant documents from the plant that did the job.


Russian plane crash probe rules out explosion

MOSCOW — Flight recorders revealed no evidence of an explosion on board a Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea, killing all 92 on board, but investigators haven’t ruled out foul play, a military official said Thursday.

Russian air force Lt. Gen. Sergei Bainetov, who heads the Defense Ministry commission conducting the crash probe, said that a cockpit conversation recorder contained the captain’s words that indicated a “special situation” that began unfolding on board the plane.

Bainetov wouldn’t elaborate on what may have led to the crash, but noted that it likely had been caused by several factors.

The Tu-154 of the Russian Defense Ministry crashed into the sea early Sunday, moments after taking off in good weather from the city of Sochi. It was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, widely known as the Red Army Choir, to a New Year’s concert at a Russian military base in Syria.

Bainetov said that the plane crashed 70 seconds after takeoff from an altitude of 250 meters (820 feet) while it was traveling at a speed of 360-370 kilometers per hour (224-230 miles per hour).

“After deciphering the first flight recorder we have made a conclusion that there was no explosion on board,” Bainetov said at a news conference.

But asked if that means that investigators have ruled out a terror attack, Bainetov said “we aren’t ruling out that version yet.”

“A terror attack doesn’t always involve an explosion,” he said. “Along with an explosion on board, there could have been some mechanical impact.”

He wouldn’t offer any details, saying that Russian law-enforcement agencies are working on the case.

Bainetov’s words appeared to contradict a previous statement from Russia’s top domestic security and counter-terrorism agency, the FSB, which has said it found “no indications or facts pointing at the possibility of a terror attack or an act of sabotage.”

It said investigators were looking into whether the crash might have been caused by bad fuel, pilot error, equipment failure or objects stuck in the engines.

Bainetov noted that “according to a preliminary assessment of information from the flight parameter recorder there had been no obvious equipment failures.”

Investigators also have taken samples from a fuel tank used to fill the plane, which flew from Moscow’s Chkalovsky military airport and stopped in Sochi for refueling.

In an apparent attempt to downplay Bainetov’s statement, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov emphasized that “the version of a terror attack isn’t being considered as the main version.”

Sokolov said search teams have completed the bulk of efforts to recover bodies and debris from the crash site. He said 19 bodies and more than 230 body fragments have been recovered, adding that 13 big fragments of the plane and about 2,000 smaller fragments have been pulled from the seabed.

Bainetov said that Syria-bound planes normally stop for refueling at the North Caucasus military air base in Mozdok, but the plane that crashed had been diverted to Sochi because of bad weather in Mozdok.

Flights of the military’s Tu-154s have been suspended during the investigation.

The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s. Russian airlines decommissioned the noisy, fuel-guzzling aircraft years ago, but the military and other government agencies continue using the plane, which is still loved by crews for its maneuverability and sturdiness.

“The aircraft has proven itself well,” Bainetov said, but said they will likely resume after the investigation is over.

The plane that crashed Sunday was built in 1983 and underwent factory checkups and maintenance in 2014, and earlier this year. Investigators have taken relevant documents from the plant that did the job.

The crash wiped out most singers of the Alexandrov Ensemble, popular for its fiery performances.

“It will be very difficult to replace the gifted artists who were famous around the world,” Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said, adding that the military will work on reviving the choir.


Russia rules out explosion in military plane crash

Russian investigators have found no evidence of an explosion or fire on a military plane that crashed into the Black Sea on Sunday with 92 people on board, an air force official said Thursday.

Terrorism has not been ruled out as the cause of the crash, but it is not a primary line of investigation, the air force's deputy head of flight safety, Sergey Bainetov, told the state-run TASS news agency.

The Defense Ministry has said there are probably no survivors.

Bainetov said the full investigation would take a month.

"The search operation continues as we need to recover more fragments to conclude the investigations," he said.

Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said it has been established that "the plane almost completely fell apart after it hit the water surface and the sea shore, which has naturally complicated the search operation," Russia's Sputnik news reported.

More than 130 square kilometers of the sea have been examined. Teams have found 2,000 fragments of the plane, 19 bodies and 230 body parts, Sputnik reported.

The Tupolev Tu-154 was carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members when it crashed.
Both black boxes -- the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder -- have been recovered and are being studied.

Those on board included 64 musicians from the army's official choir, the Alexandrov Ensemble; nine reporters; the head of the Spravedlivaya Pomoshch charity, Elizaveta Glinka; two federal civil servants; and eight crew members.

The choir was flying to Syria to perform for Russian air force pilots during the holiday season, the Defense Ministry has said.

Glinka was taking medicine and other supplies to a local hospital in Syria, her colleague and friend Dr. Sergey Kurkov told CNN affiliate RBC.

The plane had taken off from Moscow and was headed to the Russian Hmeymim air base in Latakia, Syria, where Russia has a large military presence. En route to Syria, the plane landed in Sochi to refuel.

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