- The Tu-154 model plane went missing just minutes after it took off from Sochi
- Plane carrying 92 people was travelling to Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Syria
- More than 3,500 rescue workers on 32 ships are searching the crash site at sea
- Helicopters, drones and submersibles being used to help spot bodies and debris
- Everyone on board died, including pilot and father-of-three Roman Volkov, 35
The first pictures have emerged of the pilot being blamed for the Sochi air disaster that claimed the lives for 92 people.
Russia‘s transport minister Maxim Sokolov said the Kremlin was not investigating terrorism as a cause of the crash – despite aviation experts claiming without evidence from the military Tu-154 plane, a terror attack could still be plausible.
Roman Volkov, 35, was at the controls of the plane when it crashed into the Black Sea.
Even before the black boxes have been retrieved from the sea, the highly experienced airman – one of 92 killed in the horror – is being blamed for an error that caused the crash.
More than 3,500 rescue workers on 32 ships – including over 100 divers flown in from across Russia – have been searching the crash site at sea and along the shore, the Defence Ministry said.
Helicopters, drones and submersibles were being used to help spot bodies and debris.
The first pictures have emerged of Roman Volkov, pictured, who is being blamed for the Sochi air disaster that claimed the lives for 92 people
Military personnel watch on a pier as navy ship sails near the crash site of a Russian military Tu-154 plane, which crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russia
This is the last picture of the Tu-154 before it crashed into the Black Sea. It was posted by NTV cameraman Evgeny Tolstov
A helicopter flies next to ships near the crash site of a Russian military Tu-154 plane, which crashed into the Black Sea, killing everyone on board
Rescue workers take part in a search and rescue operation at the crash site of a Russian Defense Ministry plane
A Tupolev Tu-154 plane of the Russian Defense Ministry with 92 people on board crashed into the Black Sea near the city of Sochi on Christmas Day as rescue workers plan their operation
Boats scour the Black Sea for fragments of the plane that was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, Russian servicemen and journalists, and Yelizaveta Glinka (known as Doctor Liza), Spravedlivaya Pomoshch [Just Aid] International Public Organisation director
Rescue personnel watch on a pier as navy ship sails near the crash site of a Russian military Tu-154 plane
Pilot Mr Volkov (pictured) holds the rank ‘pilot first class’ and is the son of Colonel Alexander Volkov, a distinguished military pilot
Pilot Mr Volkov holds the rank ‘pilot first class’ and is the son of Colonel Alexander Volkov, a distinguished military pilot.
He graduated Balashov Higher Military Aviation School.
He and his wife Elena had three children and lived in Schelkov, Moscow region.
His friend, Anna Saranina said today: ‘Roman literally lived in the sky.
‘There was no other interest for him.
‘When we last met, he told me that lately he often flew to Syria – a lot of flights.
‘He did not say more – military secrets. He was not afraid to fly, no premonitions.
‘He just did his duty.’
All 84 passengers and eight crew members on the Russian military’s Tu-154 plane are believed to have died on Sunday when it crashed two minutes after taking off from the southern Russian city of Sochi.
Roman Volkov had a wife and three children
Passengers included dozens of singers in Russia’s famous military choir, nine Russian journalists and a Russian doctor known for her charity work in war zones.
Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said in televised remarks on Monday that terrorism was not among the main theories, and that authorities were looking into a possible technical fault or a pilot error.
Russia’s intelligence agency FSB has also said it sees no signs of a possible terror plot in Sunday’s plane crash over the Black Sea.
The FSB said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies that it ‘has not found any signs or facts pointing to a possible terror attack or sabotage on board’.
The intelligence agency said it is focusing the probe on possibilities including pilot error, low quality of fuel, external objects getting in the engine or an unspecified technical fault.
Still, several aviation experts noted factors that could suggest a terror attack, such as the crew’s failure to report any malfunction and the fact that plane debris was scattered over a wide area.
‘Possible malfunctions … certainly wouldn’t have prevented the crew from reporting them,’ Vitaly Andreyev, a former senior Russian air traffic controller, told RIA Novosti.
Emergency crews on Sunday found fragments of the plane about a mile from the shore but a deputy defence minister told Russian news agencies that experts estimated the Tu-154 crash site around 4 miles from the shore.
By this morning, rescue teams had recovered 11 bodies which were flown to Moscow, where the remains will be identified.
In Moscow, there were unconfirmed reports of three train stations being evacuated due to a bomb threat.
A Russian plane has disappeared from radar over Sochi while en route to Syria. The missing plane was a Tu-154 model (pictured)
Rescue divers take part in the operation in the Black Sea which has so far only recovered 11 bodies
An eye witness, who saw the doomed plane hurtling towards the Black Sea, said there was a bright flash in the sky moments before she heard a big splash.
Irina Avdeeva, 35, a Sochi resident, was walking with her boyfriend on the beach shortly before dawn on Christmas Day when the Tupolev crashed.
‘We were listening to the sound of the sea,’ she said.
‘Then we heard the plane taking off, the engines were working normally.
‘The only thing – I saw then with the corner of my eye a bright flash.’
‘Then I saw splash – and it was very big,’ she said.
‘I had thought that actually it could be a plane that had fallen into the sea, but I tried to banish that thought.
‘There was no else around.
‘We did not see anyone. It was after 5 am, closer to 6 am.
‘It was Adler (a suburb of Sochi, bear the airport), the embankment, close to Fregat [hotel].
‘I saw the splash – that is actually what I saw. The last I saw, when it was close to the sea…and that’s all.
‘It turns out it fell right into the sea. At that moment I did not hear the roar of engines.
‘That is the engines stopped at that moment. They were humming, humming.
‘Then at one moment, they stopped. And there were these splashes in the sea.
Two women cry near an office of Fair aid charity organization, founded by Doctor Yelizaveta Glinka in Moscow
Russian security officials have cautioned against the theory the military plane was downed by terrorists, but some experts disagree.
Today, the search party expanded the area and said some debris could have landed in Abkhazia, officially a province of Georgia which is now under Russian sway.
Expert Dr Vadim Lukashevich told Novaya Gazeta newspaper was in all probability a terrorist strike – in revenge for Syrian airstrikes.
‘It it was a terrorist act, we must understand that this is the answer for us to Aleppo,’ he said.
‘It is said most likely it was piloting error or technical failure.
‘But the fact is that during the seven minute flight, the plane managed to gain a decent height.
‘From such a height the fragments found in different places is too much.
‘This suggests that it began to break up in air.
‘No technical failure can lead to the destruction of the aircraft in the air….
‘The plane’s destruction began in the sky, it means that already something extraordinary had happened.
‘This was not a flock of birds, as hit the plane which downed in the Hudson River after getting into trouble by hitting a flock of birds.
‘This was a more serious total and immediate failure of the plane.’
Experienced pilot and ex-commander Sergey Knyshov, and air defence expert, said: ‘Planes do not fall just like that …
‘Firstly, the equipment, and the military pilots are the best.
‘Second, the weather conditions, as far as I know, were also good.
‘Moreover, even if there was an emergency situation onboard, the crew would report it to the ground.
‘But this was not done. So, they just did not have time.
‘It appears that something happened on board which prevented pilots doing this.
‘The plane was no more than in five kilometres from the coast.
‘But there must have been a flash and witnesses who saw it.’
Mourners lit candles at Sochi Adler airport’s chapel and laid flowers at an improvised shrine that featured photos of the plane and of some victims.
The plane, which originated from Moscow’s military airport of Chkalovsky and stopped in Sochi for refuelling, was taking the Defence Ministry’s choir, the Alexandrov Ensemble, to perform at a New Year’s concert at the Russian air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.
Despite the Syrian connection, Mr Sokolov said the government saw no need to heighten security measures at Russian airports.
The Black Sea search area – which covers over four square miles – is plagued by underwater currents that can carry debris and body fragments into the open sea.
Mr Sokolov said the plane’s flight recorders did not have radio beacons, so locating them on the seabed was going to be challenging.
Russia asked the authorities of Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia, which borders Russia just over four miles east of the Sochi airport, to help monitor the Black Sea area for possible plane fragments or bodies.
Russian planes have been hit before by terror attacks, including one just last year.
In October 2015, a plane carrying mostly Russian tourists back from holiday in Egypt was brought down by a bomb over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard.
Roman Valutov, 29, was in the list of the aircraft passengers, but did not board the doomed flight as his passport expired in July
Officials said the explosive was planted in the plane’s luggage compartment.
Islamic State claimed responsibility.
A singer in the Red Army Choir declared dead in the Sochi air disaster was later found to be alive as his passport was out of date and he was forbidden to fly.
The Tu-154 model plane, which belonged to the Russian defence ministry, crashed two minutes after leaving the southern city of Adler at 5.40am (2.40am GMT). There were no survivors.
The military plane was carrying soldiers, reporters and 64 members of the famed Alexandrov military music ensemble who were to perform for Russian troops in Syria as part of New Year celebrations.
Roman Valutov, 29, was in the list of the aircraft passengers, but did not board the doomed flight as his passport expired in July.
He said: ‘I was going through immigration and the girl there said: ‘Are you joking? Your passport expired back in July.’
‘I hadn’t realised. She told me to wait. I stood there worrying if I’d be allowed to fly, and in a few minutes I was told: ‘You’re not going anywhere.’
‘I was nervous about the mistake over my passport, but I went home.
‘I was there at 3.30 am and afterwards people start calling me, asking if I was alive. I checked and found myself in the list of the dead.
‘I was crying. My friends and relatives are shocked.’
Soloist Vadim Ananyev, whose wife just delivered a baby and pleaded with him to remain at home to help, also avoided boarding the flight. The couple have three small children.
He said: ‘I feel as if I were hit over the head. I still can’t believe it. They are telling me now I was born with a silver spoon.’
Twelve bodies have been recovered off the coast of Sochi as a frantic search operation continues to find the missing.
The cause of the Christmas Day crash wasn’t immediately known, but some experts pointed at a terror attack as a possibility – a scenario rejected by Russian officials.
Viktor Ozerov, head of the defence affairs committee at the upper house of Russian parliament, said he ‘totally excluded’ terrorism as a possible cause of the crash because the plane was operated by the military.
However, some experts contested Ozerov’s claim, saying the crew’s failure to report a malfunction pointed at a possible terror attack.
‘Possible malfunctions… certainly wouldn’t have prevented the crew from reporting them,’ Vitaly Andreyev, a former senior Russian air traffic controller, told news agency RIA Novosti, adding that it points at an ‘external impact’.
Russia’s transport minister said all causes were being considered, including a terror attack.
Fragments of the aircraft were found about one mile from the Black Sea coast of Sochi
Rescue workers push a cart with remains of the military plane which crashed in the Black Sea
A frantic search operation is underway to locate the bodies of those killed in the plane crash
The Russian Defence Ministry said it found debris from the missing Tu-154 in the Black Sea one mile from Sochi
Russian police involved in the rescue operation at a pier outside Sochi today
TU-154 AIRCRAFT ACCIDENTS
Tu-154 aircraft have been involved in a number of accidents in the past.
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.
A Tu-154, operated by Siberian Airlines, was shot down over the Black Sea in October 2001, killing 78 people.
The plane was travelling from Tel Aviv in Israel to Novosibirsk in Russia, and most of the passengers were Israeli.
The plane, a Soviet-era design first introduced in the 1970s, had been on a routine flight to Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in western Syria, which has been used to launch air strikes in Moscow’s military campaign supporting its ally President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s devastating civil war.
Among the 84 passengers on the plane were 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the army’s official musical group internationally known as the Red Army Choir, who were travelling to Syria to participate in New Year celebrations at the airbase.
The choir sang ‘Get Lucky’ at the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games that Russia hosted in Sochi, becoming an instant online sensation.
Ralina Gilmanova, 22, and her fiancé Mikhail, who were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, were also killed.
The young couple were engaged last year and due to marry soon.
A three-year-old boy was orphaned by the crash after his parents Oleg and Ekaterina Korzanov, dancers in the Red Army Choir, died in the crash.
The boy, Artem, who will be four in February, was staying with relatives.
Singer Alexander Shutko, 30, posted a haunting last photo minutes before the doomed flight crashed in the Black Sea.
His sister, Emma, said: ‘Alexander called me and said ‘we are already on board, taking off in 15 minutes, I’ll call you when we stop in Sochi.
‘But he didn’t call us. We tried to contact him but his phone was out of coverage.’
She said he had been promised a soloist’s role in the choir, that saw 64 of its members killed in the crash.
She said: ‘He was so happy about his new job. He was promised a career of a soloist, he had a rare and beautiful voice.
He was engaged to Yulia, who wrote: ‘My love, my life, you are the best in this world, I always told you this! Rest in peace.’
As word of the crash spread on Sunday, people placed bouquets of flowers outside the ensemble’s Moscow headquarters.
‘We all loved this ensemble,’ said Moscow resident Mark Novikov. They are our brothers, our friends, our colleagues.’
Pavel Kogan, the director of Moscow State Academic Symphonic Orchestra, described the choir as ‘a symbol of the country’ and said the loss of the artistes was ‘a nightmare’.
Ralina Gilmanova, 22, and her fiancé Mikhail, who were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, were on the flight that crashed in the Black Sea
The young couple, both in the choir, were engaged last year and due to marry ‘soon’
Ekaterina Korzanov, a dancer in the Red Army Choir, died in the crash, along with her partner
Daria Trofimova, one of the 64 people in the Red Army choir who was killed in the plane crash
Lilia Pyryeva, a member of the Alexandrov Ensemble, who died in the Christmas Day crash
Nine journalists were among the passengers, with state-run channels Pervy Kanal, NTV and Zvezda saying they each had three staff onboard the flight.
There were also eight soldiers, two civil servants, and an NGO member.
There were also eight crew members on board.
Yelizaveta Glinka, a prominent charity activist and humanitarian worker who served on the Kremlin human rights council, was among the dead.
Mikhail Fedotov, who heads the council, said Glinka was travelling to Syria to bring medication to a university hospital near the airbase.
Anton Gubankov, the chief of the Directorate of Culture of the Russian Defense Ministry, was also killed.
Singer Alexander Shutko, 30, posted a haunting last photo minutes before the doomed flight crashed in the Black Sea
Among the dead in the crash was Yelizaveta Glinka, a doctor and charity worker who serves on the Kremlin human rights council (pictured with Vladimir Putin)
Sixty-four members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the army’s official musical group, and its conductor Valery Khalilov (pictured) were on board the plane travelling to Syria
Channel One sound engineer Alexander Soidov (left) and cameraman Vadim Denisov (right) were on the flight that crashed early this morning
Channel One reporter Dmitry Runkov was also on the flight that crashed in the Black Sea
Zvezda TV Channel reporter Pavel Obukhov was one of the nine journalists killed in the crash