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'No survivors’ as Syria-bound Russian jet crashes

Russian plane carrying 92 crashes into Black Sea two minutes after take-off

MOSCOW A Russian military plane has crashed on its way to Syria yesterday with no sign of survivors among the 92 people on board. Among the passengers were dozens of Red Army Choir members heading to celebrate the New Year with troops.

The Tu-154 plane went down in the Black Sea after taking off from the southern city of Adler, where it had been refuelling, a Defence Ministry spokesman told Russian news agencies.

It disappeared from the radar just two minutes after it took off from the city in Sochi at 5.25am.

The ministry said four bodies have been recovered as the authorities launched a frantic search operation.

"Fragments of the Tu-154 plane... were found 1.5km from the Black Sea coast of the city of Sochi at a depth of 50m to 70m," the ministry said.

President Vladimir Putin told state television that Russia will observe a national day of mourning today.

The plane had been on a routine flight to Russia's Hmeimim airbase in western Syria, which was 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 plane's 84 passengers were Russian servicemen as well as members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the army's official musical group which is also known as the Red Army Choir, and its conductor Valery Khalilov.

The passengers also included nine journalists. There were eight crew members.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the US Embassy in Moscow have expressed condolences over the crash.

The Tu-154 could have crashed because of a technical malfunction or pilot error but not terrorism, said Mr Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, according to Russia's Sputnik news agency.

He said: "I rule out (the) version of terror attack completely... The plane had to make a U-turn after take-off over the sea (and) may (have taken) the wrong direction."

Investigators are questioning the technical crew responsible for preparing the plane for take-off. The aircraft had been in service since 1983 and had flown 7,000 hours since. It last underwent repairs in December 2014 and was serviced in September.

The Tu-154 aircraft has been involved in a number of accidents. In 2010, many high-ranking Polish officials were killed in one such crash. - AFP

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