Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a day of mourning after a Russian military plane carrying the world-famous Red Army Choir to Syria crashed into the Black Sea on Christmas morning minutes after taking off from the coastal town of Sochi.
All 92 aboard apparently died, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov arrived in Sochi on Sunday to convene an investigative mission, according to the Tass News Agency.
The minister said all possible causes are being considered, including a terror attack, according to The Associated Press.
While officials said they did not believe the crash was caused by terrorism, Russian broadcaster MKRU reported that security cameras nearby recorded a bright flash near the plane before it went down.
Viktor Ozerov, head of the defense affairs committee at the upper house of Russian parliament, downplayed the possibility of terrorism, according to the AP.
The Tu-154 was operated by the military, so the crash may have stemmed from a mechanical problem or a crew error, Ozeroy said
The plane disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from Sochi, AP reported. The crash site is less than a mile from the shore.
The plane, which belongs to the Russian Defense Ministry, was carrying 64 members of the Russian army’s official choir, also known as the Alexandrov Ensemble, to a military base in Syria for a New Year’s concert, according to Turkey’s Daily Sabah.
Russian forces have helped the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad gain the upper hand against rebel groups in the country’s nearly six-year-old civil war. Last week, the rebel stronghold of Aleppo in northern Syria, the country’s commercial capital, was recaptured by Syrian government troops. It was a major defeat for the rebels, who had held eastern Aleppo for most of the war.
The Russian Army choir, established in 1928, for decades presented a human face of the Soviet Union’s military by traveling the world during the Cold War to perform Russian folk songs and spiritual music.
Also on board was humanitarian activist Elizaveta Glinka, Russian Foreign Ministry spokewoman Maria Zakharova said, according to state-owned broadcaster RT.
Glinka was a “social and political activist, but she was outside any politics, above any politics,” Zakharova said.
Recovery crews pulled several bodies from the water as drones, divers, helicopters and ships searched for the remains of other passengers, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. – usatoday –