2016-12-27 13:52:00

Terror fears over Russia's plane crash

(Vatican Radio) Russia's government has played down suggestions that a terror attack might have downed a Syria-bound Russian plane, killing all 92 people on board, amid concerns among experts that this possibility is being overlooked. The Kremlin made the comments after a day of mourning for the victims, including most members of Russia's world famous military choir.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:  

"Let us honour the memory of the victims with minute of silence," said Russian Prime Minister Dmitrii Medvedev as he opened a government session. Across the nation people mourned the people who died when the Tupolev-154 plane crashed into the Black Sea on Sunday. 

It happened just two minutes after taking off in good weather from the city of Sochi. The plane was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, often referred to as the Red Army Choir, to a New Year's concert at a Russian military base in Syria. Others included journalists and a doctor who was famous for her work in war zones. 

However Russia's Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov has tried to play down suggestions that the crash might have been caused by a bomb planted on board or a portable air defense missile. "According to our information, at the current moment the main theories of the crash don't include terror attack. That is why we are considering that the plane crash might have been caused whether by technical condition of the plane or piloting error," he said.

"I would like to stress that the cause of the crash will be investigated by investigative authorities and technical commission of Defence Ministry. Our commission is dealing with elimination of consequences of the crash and work with victims' relatives."


But some aviation experts say the crew's failure to communicate any technical problem and a large area over which fragments of the plane were scattered point at a possible explosion on board. In October 2015, a Russian passenger plane was brought down by a bomb over Egypt, killing all 224 people aboard in an attack claimed by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group. 

In August 2004, two Russian planes were blown up on the same day by suicide bombers, killing 89 people, for which a Chechen warlord claimed responsibility. 

Evidence of a bombing of the Syria-bound military flight would badly embarrass the Kremlin, highlighting Russia's extreme vulnerability to attacks even as it boasts its success in Syria after Aleppo fell into President Bashar Assad's hands.

At the same time a technical failure would underscore concern over Russia's notorious air safety record.   

As Russia now searches for answers, about 3,500 people, 43 ships and 182 divers have been sweeping a vast crash site for bodies of the victims and debris. Dozens of drones and several submersibles also have been involved in the search. Rescue teams so far have recovered several bodies and numerous body fragments, which have been flown to Moscow for identification.


Whatever will be discovered, the pain will remain for people including Vadim Ananyev, a soloist of the world famous Alexandrov Ensemble, who stayed home with his family. 

He said he lost friends and colleagues including five soloists adding that he had known them people for 30 years, as well as their wives and children. He added: "I feel terrible for the children and for all that I have lost. We were loved all over the world, never mind the political situation." 

His pain was shared by Pope Francis. 

The pope led thousands of in silent prayer for the plane crash victims and noted that the Russian army choir had performed in 2004 at the Vatican.

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