Black Boxes Found in Lebed Crash

ReutersA priest placing an icon on Lebed's body Monday in a concert hall in Krasnoyarsk.
Investigators on Monday found the flight recorders from the Mi-8 helicopter that plunged into a snowy Siberian hillside, killing Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed and seven others, emergency officials said.

Thick fog concealing a frost-covered power line was likely at fault for Sunday's crash, news reports said. The helicopter, carrying 20 people, went down near the town of Abakan in the Krasnoyarsk region, apparently after hitting the power line.

Lebed, a 52-year-old former army general who helped defeat the 1991 hard-line Soviet coup and came in third in the 1996 presidential elections, was one of the country's most prominent politicians in the 1990s.

President Vladimir Putin held a moment of silence in honor of Lebed at a meeting in Moscow on Monday, calling the governor a "comrade" and "one of Russia's most striking politicians."

The helicopter's flight voice recorder was in good condition and investigators were studying it Monday for clues, Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said. The data recorder was in worse shape and was to be sent to Moscow for study, he said.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who visited the site Monday as the head of the government's investigative commission, ruled out technical problems as a cause of the crash.

"I can say with absolute confidence that the helicopter was in good technical condition," he said in remarks shown on NTV television.

The surviving 12 passengers were in regional hospitals on Monday.

"There was the impression that the trees were just under our wheels. Then the nose cracked and we went down. That's all I remember," Stanislav Smirnov, a cameraman for local Channel 7 television, said from a hospital bed on NTV.

Three journalists and the region's deputy governor were among those killed. The helicopter was taking Lebed to the opening of a new downhill ski trail.

Thousands of people went to a concert hall in Krasnoyarsk where his coffin was on display to pay their respects, news reports said. His body was to be moved to Moscow on Tuesday.

Lebed will be buried at Moscow's elite Novodevichy Cemetery, which is reserved for top politicians and most beloved cultural figures. No date for the funeral was announced.

Lebed was widely admired by Russians for his patriotism and for his straightforward remarks. He won a top medal in the Soviet war in Afghanistan and helped face down the hard-line coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.

After his 1996 presidential bid Lebed served as the head of the Security Council and was credited with brokering an end to Moscow's 1994-96 war in Chechnya. He was elected governor of Krasnoyarsk in 1998.