Saturday 17 August 2019

Searchers find black box in probe on Russia crash

The wreckage of the crashed military Tupolev TU-154 plane is lifted from the waters of the Black Sea during a search near Sochi. Photo: REUTERS
The wreckage of the crashed military Tupolev TU-154 plane is lifted from the waters of the Black Sea during a search near Sochi. Photo: REUTERS

Sonya Hillers

The main black box of the Syria-bound Russian military plane that crashed into the Black Sea killing all 92 people onboard has been found in a massive ongoing search operation, authorities said yesterday.

"The main black box was found 1,600 metres from the shore at a depth of 17 metres," the defence ministry said in a statement, adding that the device would be sent to Moscow to be deciphered, though they could not say how long the process would take.

Relatives cry in front of the Red Army Choir building in Moscow. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Relatives cry in front of the Red Army Choir building in Moscow. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

"The casing holding the flight recorder is in a satisfactory condition," the ministry said.

"After it is technically cleaned in distilled water we will start transcribing it."

It comes as a source close to the investigation said it was possible a bird from a nearby research centre had caused the crash by flying into one of the engines, according to Russian news website 'Life News'.

The TU-154 jet, whose passengers included more than 60 members of the internationally renowned Red Army Choir, was heading to Russia's military airbase in Syria when it went down off the coast of the resort city of Sochi shortly after take-off on Sunday.

Investigators have yet to confirm the cause of the crash, but officials have said that an act of terror was not being considered as a possible explanation.

The discovery of the black box comes as investigators were recovering bodies and remaining debris from the aircraft in an operation involving 192 divers, 45 vessels, 12 planes, five helicopters and 15 deepwater machines.

The defence ministry said that five plane fragments were found overnight. Russia's federal security service has said it is looking into four suspected causes of the crash, including pilot error, technical failure, faulty fuel and an object in the engine.

The defence ministry said yesterday that 12 bodies and 156 pieces of human tissue had been recovered and would be sent to Moscow for identification.

The downed jet, a Soviet-era plane built in 1983, had last been serviced in September and underwent more major repairs in December 2014.

Russian pilots say the TU-154 is still flight-worthy, though major Russian commercial airlines have long since replaced it with Western-built planes. Experts say only two are registered with Russian passenger airlines with the rest registered to various government ministries.

The last big TU-154 crash was in 2010 when a Polish jet carrying then-president Lech Kaczynski and much of Poland's political elite went down in western Russia, killing everyone on board.

The Interfax news agency, citing a law enforcement source, said a second flight recorder had also been found in the wreckage of Sunday's crash, but not yet raised to the surface.

The 'Kommersant' newspaper reported that investigators were relying on a witness statement from a coast guard who saw the plane in its final moments descending toward the sea with its nose tilted sharply upward.

The Tu-154 jet went down on Sunday morning, minutes after taking off at 5.25am from Sochi's airport, where it had stopped to refuel after flying out from the Chkalovsky military aerodrome in the Moscow region.

Some aviation experts have noted that the crew's failure to communicate any technical problem, and a large area over which fragments of the plane were scattered, point to a possible explosion on board. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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