SOCHI (Russia) • Russian divers yesterday found parts of the Syria-bound military plane that crashed on Sunday in the Black Sea, killing all 92 on board, as the authorities said pilot error or a technical fault - but not terrorism - was likely to have caused the tragedy.
The Tu-154 plane, whose passengers included more than 60 members of the internationally renowned Red Army Choir, was heading to Moscow's military base in Hmeimim in Syria's Latakia province when it went down near the resort city of Sochi.
Investigators have yet to confirm the cause of the crash, but officials said an act of terror was not being considered as a possible explanation, despite the plane and its black boxes still being underwater.
A spokesman for the Sochi-based search and rescue branch of the emergency ministry confirmed that parts of the plane had been found underwater.
"The debris is at the depth of 27m, one mile (1.6km) from shore," spokesman Rimma Chernova told Agence France-Presse.
The Russian military added that divers had retrieved "two elements of the plane's control mechanism".
Russia's federal security service said it is looking into four suspected causes, which do not include terrorism. "No signs or facts pointing to a possible act of terror have been received at this time," Russia's Federal Security Service said.
The probe is focusing on pilot error, a technical fault, bad fuel or a foreign object in the engine as four main scenarios, it added.
More than 3,000 people are racing to find the remaining bodies and debris in a massive operation that includes 45 vessels, planes, helicopters and drones, along with divers and remotely operated deep-water machines.
Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said some of the bodies could have already been carried away by the "strong currents" to Abkhazia, the separatist region of Georgia, and some of its rescue workers have joined the search operation.
Along with the first 10 bodies, 86 body parts were taken to the Russian capital for DNA analysis, Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
The ministry denied a Russian news agency report that some of the dead passengers had been wearing life jackets.
He said searchers have finished looking over the land area around the crash site, while divers are working over an area with a radius of 500m.
These people were flying to Syria to support and wish happy holidays to those who are serving their military duty there.
PRIME MINISTER DMITRY MEDVEDEV, on the victims who died in the plane crash.
The plane went down on Sunday morning minutes after taking off at 5.25am (10.25am Singapore time) from Sochi's airport, where it had stopped to refuel after flying out from the Chkalovsky military aerodrome in the Moscow region.
On board were 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble - the army's official musical group, also known as Red Army Choir - and its conductor Valery Khalilov.
"The ensemble has been orphaned by a third," said state channel Rossiya.
The choir was set to perform for Russian troops at the Hmeimim airbase, which has been used to launch air strikes in support of Moscow's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
President Vladimir Putin ordered a national day of mourning yesterday, with state television flashing black and white pictures of the victims across the screen.
"These people were flying to Syria to support and wish happy holidays to those who are serving their military duty there," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said after opening a government meeting, which observed a moment of silence.
Other passengers included military officers, journalists and popular charity worker Elizaveta Glinka, also known as Dr Liza, who had been flying with a cargo of medical supplies for a hospital in Latakia.
People carried flowers and candles 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.
Tu-154 aircraft have been involved in a number of accidents in the past, including the April 2010 crash killing then Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his delegation.
The aircraft is no longer used by commercial airlines in Russia.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS