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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Pays His Respects in Ufa

Itar-TassRelatives of those killed in the crash weeping over a coffin at a funeral Monday in Ufa.
UFA, Bashkortostan -- President Vladimir Putin made an unannounced visit Monday to Ufa to pay respects to dozens of local children killed in an air crash over Germany and buried earlier in the day.

Orthodox and Muslim clergymen offered prayers for those killed in last week's crash, in which 44 Ufa schoolchildren perished. The victims' families then gathered privately for quiet burials out of the public eye, hours after 33 coffins were delivered to Ufa.

Television reports showed mourners, some clutching each other and weeping, others holding photographs of victims aloft, clustered around flower-laden wooden coffins.

"This is a time of huge mourning since the overwhelming majority of the dead were children. What took place was a fateful combination of circumstance, destiny from which there is no escape," chief Russian mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin was quoted by news agencies as saying at the ceremony.

In all, 71 people were killed when a Bashkirian Airlines Tu-154 bound for Barcelona, Spain, slammed into a Boeing cargo jet operated by DHL over Lake Constance on Germany's border with Switzerland.

Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, has been hit especially hard by the accident. The 44 Ufa children included many leading students and athletes from city schools.

Bashkortostan Prime Minister Rafail Baidavletov read a message of sympathy at the ceremony and said a similar memorial would be held Friday, when 28 more bodies are to be returned to Ufa.

"This misfortune has crossed out the clear and wonderful lives of these children," Baidavletov said. "This terrible tragedy has found response not only in the hearts of citizens of Bashkortostan, but throughout Russia and the whole world."

Putin, who was traveling in the provinces, made an unscheduled stop in Ufa, the Kremlin press service confirmed. News agencies said he went immediately to the cemetery from the airport.

Parents have decided against a suggestion by one that the children be buried in a common grave. However, media reports said some of the victims would be interred near one another at an Ufa cemetery.

Police and Federal Security Service officers sealed off the cemetery, keeping all but the families and others close to the victims out.

Yunir Valeyev lost his son Vener in the accident and said the parents were anxiously following the investigation.

"We have very many questions, and I think it's the duty of every parent to find out to the end how it happened," Valeyev told RTR.

German crash investigators announced later in the day that voice recorders from the two jets showed that a Swiss air traffic controller's order for the Russian pilot to descend contradicted the Tu-154 cockpit warning system's command to climb.

The voice recorders indicated that the automatic cockpit warning systems issued simultaneous instructions for the Tu-154 to climb and the cargo jet to descend about 45 seconds before they ultimately collided over southern Germany.

But one second after the on-board system warnings, Zurich air traffic control, which was in charge of directing the planes even though they were flying over Germany, told the Tu-154 to descend, German investigators said.

(AP, Reuters)