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“Pilot error or a technical fault, but not terrorism, were likely to have caused the crash”, Russia’s transport minister said. 92 have died.
Around 3,000 people, including more than 100 divers, as well as ships, planes, helicopters and submersibles are involved in the operation near Sochi.
Divers Monday afternoon found several fragments of the plane about one mile away from the shore and 82 feet under the sea, the statement revealed. Some of the debris has been recovered, and the divers were going back into the water to search for more.
So far only 11 bodies have been recovered, but officials believe many more may be trapped inside the remains of the aircraft. Ten of the bodies and "86 fragments" of bodies have now arrived in Moscow for identification, Gen Konashenkov, defence ministry spokesman, said later.
The 10.5 sq km search area just off the coast had been extended, he added. Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said that the plane's "black box" flight recorders, situated in the tail of the aircraft, had not yet been retrieved.
Pilot error or a technical fault — but not terrorism — were likely to have caused the crash, Russia’s transport minister Maxim Sokolov said in a statement on Monday.
"This is a terrible tragedy and irreplaceable grief for the families of the victims, Sokolov said Sunday."I express my deep condolences to the families and friends of the victims."
The plane disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from Sochi's Adler airport at 05:25 (02:25 GMT) on Sunday, heading for Latakia in Syria, the defence ministry said. The flight had originated in Moscow and landed in Sochi for refuelling.
THE ALEXANDROV ESSEMBLE, AMONG THE VICTIMS
It was carrying 64 members of the famed Alexandrov military music ensemble, who were to perform for Russian troops in Syria. As well as the Alexandrov Ensemble, those on board included nine journalists, eight soldiers, two civil servants and eight crew members.
Among the victims was Yelizaveta Glinka, known as Dr Liza, the executive director of the Fair Aid charity and the inaugural winner of Russia's state prize for achievements in human rights.
The Alexandrov Ensemble was scheduled to perform a New Year's concert at Russia's Hmeimim air base near Latakia.
A DAY OF MOURNING
Konashenkov said the Tu-154 aircraft was last serviced in September and had undergone factory check-ups and maintenance in December 2014. It had an "experienced" pilot, he added. The plane came into service in 1983.
The nation held a day of mourning Monday for the victims. Flags flew at half-mast and TV stations removed entertainment shows from their schedules, Reuters reported.