Russia Finds No Signs of Explosion in Black Sea Plane Crash


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Engine parts and a piece of the landing gear from the Tupolev 154 military plane that crashed into the Black Sea, in an image released on Thursday by the Russian Emergency Services Ministry.

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Russian Emergency Services Ministry, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

MOSCOW — Russian investigators said on Thursday that they had found no evidence that an explosion occurred aboard a Russian military plane that crashed into the Black Sea, killing all 92 passengers and crew, but that they had not ruled out the possibility of a terrorist attack.

“It was obvious that the equipment worked abnormally,” the Russian transportation minister, Maxim Sokolov said, adding that it would be “up to experts to find out” why that happened.

The plane crashed Sunday en route to Syria after a refueling stop in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

In the aftermath, the Russian authorities stressed that they believed it was unlikely that an attack had brought down the jet, a Tupolev 154, but they made clear at the news conference on Thursday that they were leaving open the possibility.

“We have come to conclusion that there was no explosion on board,” said Lt. Gen. Sergei D. Bainetov, the leader of the investigation. “Apart from an explosion on board, there could be some mechanical impact of any kind. A terrorist act is not necessarily connected with an explosion.”

Both flight data recorders have been recovered, and General Bainetov said it would take at least a month to draw final conclusions about what caused the crash.

Although General Bainetov said the data had revealed “no obvious technical failures,” he said the military’s use of the Tupolev 154 — a workhorse of the Soviet air transportation system that has been phased out by most civilian airlines but which is still used by government agencies — had been suspended until the investigation was completed.

The plane was carrying performers and staff members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, a famed orchestra and choir known for renditions of classical Russian songs and folk tunes.

The performers on the plane were scheduled to appear at a celebratory concert for Russian service members at the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria. Nine journalists were also on board, as was Yelizaveta P. Glinka, a prominent philanthropist and aid worker.

President Vladimir V. Putin sent army troops, but mostly aircraft, to Syria, contending that Russia needed to address the terrorist threat before it arrived in his country, but it is widely believed that his primary goal was to keep President Bashar al-Assad, a top ally, in power. On Thursday, Mr. Putin announced that the Syrian government had reached a cease-fire agreement with rebels.

At the news conference in Moscow, General Bainetov said that the plane began its descent into the Black Sea after reaching an altitude of 820 feet, traveling at 230 miles per hour. The plane crashed into the water just 70 seconds after takeoff, and the emergency “situation” lasted only 10 seconds.

Mr. Sokolov, the transportation minister, said that the plane fell apart after hitting the water and the seabed. The search operation was mostly concluded, he said. Nineteen bodies and 230 human fragments were lifted from the sea, as were 13 big, and almost 2,000 small, parts of the plane.

One of the dead has been identified and buried at a military cemetery near Moscow. Others will be identified with the help of genetic analysis, officials said.

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