A Russian military plane with 92 people on board, including a famed army choir, has crashed into the Black Sea shortly after taking off, the Russian defence ministry said.
Local news agencies, citing the defence ministry, said the Tu-154 plane had departed from the southern Russian city of Adler on Sunday moring and was heading towards Latakia in Syria.
A list of passengers and crew published by the ministry showed that 64 members of the renowned Alexandrov Ensemble, the army’s official choir, and its conductor Valery Khalilov were on board the plane.
Members of the choir were travelling to Syria to celebrate the New Year with Russian troops.
There was no word on possible survivors.
The plane had been on a routine flight to Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in western Syria.
A defence ministry spokesman told Russian media that a body was recovered from the Black Sea after the crash.
“The body of a person killed as a result the crash … was found six kilometres off the coast of Sochi,” defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told agencies.
“The body was taken on board of a rescue ship.”
Nine Russian reporters had also been on board as well as military servicemen.
Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a ministry spokesman, Konashenkov said fragments of the plane had been found at a depth of about 70 metres in the Black Sea about 1.5 km off the coast near the city of Sochi.
“The search operation is continuing,” said Konashenkov. “Four ships, five helicopters and a drone are working in the area,” he said, saying a military commission had flown to Sochi to look into what happened.
Other news agencies reported that parts of the plane and undercarriage, and also an oil slick were found over an area covering several kilometres in the Black Sea.
Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from Moscow, said the plane disappeared from radar only minutes after takeoff.
“Reports here in Moscow are saying that the passengers included journalists and military personnel, in addition to members of the famous Alexandrov Ensemble,” she said.
|More than 60 members of The Red Army Choir were travelling on the Syria-bound plane that crashed in the Black Sea [File: AFP]|
The plane, which was on its way to Latakia in Syria, was carrying 81 passengers and 10 crew members, Interfax news agency reported.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to form and head a state commission to investigative the crash of the Tu-154 plane in Sochi,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
The Tu-154 is a Soviet-designed three-engine airliner.
In April 2010, many high-ranking Polish officials, including then president Lech Kaczynski, were killed when a Tu-154 airliner went down in thick fog while approaching the Smolensk airport in western Russia.
The Russian defence ministry said that the Alexandrov Ensemble was to perform at the Khmeimim airbase, Russia’s main base of operations for its military campaign in support of the Syrian government.
Russia has been supporting its longtime ally Syria with a bombing campaign against rebel groups for more than a year.
Rescue services of aviation units of the Southern Military District in Krasnodar and neighbouring regions were engaged in the search for the plane wreckage, the defence ministry said.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies