MOSCOW • The Russian authorities have found a flight recorder in the wreckage of a military plane that crashed into the Black Sea on Sunday, killing all 92 people on board.
The recorder, one of several reported to be on the Tupolev-154, contains information which could help investigators identify the cause of the crash. It will be sent to a Defence Ministry facility in Moscow for analysis.
The black box was found by a remote-controlled underwater vehicle at a depth of around 17m and 1,600m from the resort city of Sochi where the plane had stopped to refuel en route to Syria, after flying from the Moscow region.
The Interfax news agency yesterday said a second flight recorder had been found but not yet raised.
It also said Russia has grounded all TU-154 planes until it understands why one of the ageing Soviet-era planes crashed.
The Defence Ministry said search and rescue teams have so far recovered 12 bodies and 156 body parts, news agencies reported.
Investigators have said that pilot error or a technical fault likely caused the plane to crash, killing dozens of Red Army Choir singers and dancers en route to Syria to entertain Russian troops in the run-up to the New Year. Officials have said an act of terror was not considered as a possible explanation.
The Kommersant daily newspaper reported that investigators are relying on a witness statement by a coast guard member who saw the plane in its final moments descending towards the sea with its nose tilted sharply upwards.
The authorities have not said how long it would take to decipher the black box, which could provide information on the reasons for the crash. The finding of the black box comes as searchers scramble to recover bodies and remaining debris from the aircraft in an operation involving 192 divers, 45 vessels, 12 planes, five helicopters and 15 deepwater machines.
During the search operation on Monday night, a further five fragments of the plane were found, the Defence Ministry said in a statement. They included engine fragments. One part of the plane's fuselage, measuring 3.5m by 4.5m, was also recovered.
The ministry said the jet, built in 1983, had last been serviced in September and underwent major repairs in December 2014. Russian pilots say the TU-154 has a decent safety record, though the country's major commercial airlines have long since replaced it with Western-built planes.
The last big TU-154 crash was in 2010, when a Polish jet carrying then-President Lech Kaczynski and many of Poland's political elites went down in western Russia, killing everyone on board.
Russia observed a day of mourning on Monday, cancelling entertainment programmes.
People brought flowers to improvised memorials at the port in central Sochi and the city's airport, as well as to the Moscow headquarters of the Red Army Choir and the office of Fair Aid, an NGO which primarily worked with Moscow's homeless, whose head Yelizaveta Glinka, affectionately known as "Doctor Liza", was on board.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said he will aim to quickly restore the country's signature choir, which lost most of its singers in the crash. He added that a military music school will be named after conductor Valery Khalilov, calling him a "legend" who revived the army's orchestral traditions.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE