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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Passengers Were Russian Emigres

BEN GURION INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Israel -- A young bride flying to Siberia for her wedding. A grandmother anxious to see her Russian hometown again after 10 years in Israel. The daughter of an Israeli immigration official. They were among the 66 passengers aboard the Russian airliner that crashed into the Black Sea.

Sobbing relatives huddled in a lounge at Israel's main airport Thursday to comfort each other after being told their loved ones were on the fatal Sibir flight from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk.

Some wailed or covered their faces with their hands. Others passed on the news in phone conversations punctuated by sobs.

Officials said most if not all the passengers were Israelis -- immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were en route to Novosibirsk for family visits during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Vadim Kupov, a recent immigrant to Israel, lost his 28-year-old wife Laila and his 18-month-old son Michael. The three had initially planned to fly to Novosibirsk for a family visit on Sept. 11, but that flight was canceled when Israel closed its airspace after the terror attacks on New York and Washington that day.

Kupov, a tall man with short blond hair, said he had considered joining his family on Thursday's flight, but decided to stay behind in Israel because of financial problems. Kupov's son was one of two infants aboard, aviation officials said.

A Tel Aviv music student, 24-year-old Elena Starikovsky, had planned to get married in Novosibirsk, said a friend, Dina Kulbatzka. Several days ago, Starikovsky's friends in Israel threw her a party in Tel Aviv.

Kulbatzka said the bride, who immigrated to Israel two years ago, had hoped to persuade her husband to make a life in the Jewish state, rather than in Russia.

Olga Kuznitsov lost her 76-year-old mother, Sarah Kamcha, who was anxious about returning to her hometown of Novosibirsk for the first time in 10 years.

"She was nervous to go back to visit home," Kuznitsov said of her mother. Kutznitsov said she heard about the crash on television, and then rushed to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

She said she hasn't told her 5-year-old son yet about his grandmother's death. The two were especially close, she said.

Also aboard were the daughter of an Israeli immigration official and an elderly woman from Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood built on disputed land on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Gilo has frequently come under Palestinian fire in the past year of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, and the woman hoped to find some respite from the fighting in Novosibirsk, said Housing Minister Natan Sharansky.

Social workers offered to escort grieving relatives home for emergency counseling. "We are trying, with a network of volunteers, to help the families in their difficult times, and to get to their homes," said social worker Ruth Bar-On.

All outgoing flights at Ben Gurion, Israel's main airport, were grounded for about four hours. Airport officials said planes and luggage of passengers were being given an extra check. Thousands of passengers were temporarily stranded, with at least 20 flights forced to delay their departure.

In a sign of the apprehension of airport officials, even passengers who had already checked in were called back for another security check. Security procedures, already stringent at Ben Gurion, were further tightened, Israel TV's Channel Two said.

There were conflicting reports on how many of the passengers were Israelis. The Jewish Agency, which helps bring immigrants to Israel, said all 66 had Israeli passports, while the Israeli Airports Authority said the vast majority were Israelis. Several of the passengers were members of the 15,000-member Jewish community in Novosibirsk, said a rabbi in the city, Rabbi Zalman Zaklas.