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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bodies, Flight Recorders Sought in Black Sea

ReutersRelatives grieving at an identification procedure at a Sochi morgue Thursday.
SOCHI -- Searchers combed the waters off the resort city of Sochi on Thursday, looking for bodies and a flight recorder from an Armenian passenger jet that slammed into the Black Sea in bad weather and ripped apart, killing all 113 people on board.

Anguished relatives and friends gathered at a central hotel and at a city morgue, where many stared ashen-faced at grotesquely disfigured faces and bodies appearing in coroners' photographs.

Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said just 28 bodies had been identified so far, out of a total of 53 recovered.

Levitin told reporters that searchers had located a large part of the plane's fuselage that was emitting a radio signal believed to be from a flight recorder. But he said the piece of debris lay in some 680 meters of water and that authorities did not have the equipment to raise the wreckage.

"We will turn to other countries that have experience in raising objects from the depths," he said.

The Airbus A320 plunged into the sea in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday in heavy rain and poor visibility as it was approaching the airport in Adler, about 20 kilometers south of Sochi. Searchers found wreckage spread over a wide area about 6 kilometers offshore.

"We are not considering any working theory until we get a better understanding of the events that took place, and that will require deciphering the black boxes," Levitin said earlier.

Prosecutors dismissed the possibility of terrorism, and other officials pointed to the rough weather or pilot error as the likely cause.

The head of the Georgian air control agency, which covered 90 percent of the Armavia jet's final flight, said the crew had begun to return to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, because of weather conditions around Sochi but that when it was over the Georgian city of Kutaisi, Russian air controllers announced the weather at Adler airport had improved.

"And since they had enough fuel, the pilot decided to fly back to Adler," agency chief Georgy Karbelashvili said.

Interfax, citing a source in the Russian commission investigating the disaster, said there was information indicating the crew was informed just 5 to 6 kilometers from the runway, when the plane was at an altitude of 300 meters, that landing was "not recommended." The source said the plane was turning back when it hit the water.

In televised comments, President Vladimir Putin told Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov to work fast to determine the cause of the crash, but acknowledged that it would be difficult without flight recorders.

At a Sochi morgue, grim-faced relatives -- mostly men -- peered at a nearly 2-meter-high wooden board in the courtyard holding coroner photographs, some showing barely recognizable corpses and faces. Forensic authorities emerged from the building periodically, asking if anyone had recognized a person in the photographs.