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.
Russian agencies, citing unnamed security sources, said the TU-154 aircraft had crashed in the sea near the southern Russian city of Sochi after disappearing from radar screens.
The plane was carrying Russian servicemen and members of a renowned military choir and dance ensemble, the Alexandrov Ensemble, who were being flown into Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria to entertain military personnel in the run-up to the new year, the RIA news agency quoted the Defence Ministry as saying.
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.
Rescuers already have found one body and personal documents belonging to some of those on board. There was no word of survivors.
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.
Russia’s RIA news agency, citing an unidentified security source, said preliminary data indicated that the plane had crashed because of a technical malfunction or a pilot error.
The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed source as saying the plane had not sent an SOS signal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Sunday it was too early to say what had caused the crash.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was personally coordinating the rescue efforts, and President Vladimir Putin has received official reports on the incident.
Russia’s Defence Ministry regularly flies musicians into Syria to put on concerts for military personnel.
The base they were heading for, Hmeymim, is in Latakia province. It is from there that Russia flies air strikes against Syrian rebels.
Earlier in December, another Russian Defence Ministry crashed in Siberia with 39 people on board as it tried to make an emergency landing near a Soviet-era military base.
Nobody was been killed in that incident, though 32 people were airlifted to hospital.
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.