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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jet Crashes Near Sochi, 113 Killed

ReutersEmergency workers watching as a crane lifts the tail of the Armavia Airbus A320 passenger jet Wednesday in Sochi.
SOCHI -- An Armenian airliner crashed into the Black Sea off the coast of Sochi early Wednesday, killing all 113 people on board. Authorities blamed bad weather.

As evening descended on the dank, one-story Adler airport, grieving relatives of passengers who had been on the Armavia A320 held each other and sobbed. Outside, a light rain coated the tarmac.

Among the dead were 84 Armenian citizens, 27 Russians, one Ukrainian and one Georgian, airline officials and Krasnodar region prosecutor Sergei Yeremin said. Eight crew members and 105 passengers, including six children, were on board.

The flight originated in Yerevan and was within 6 kilometers of its destination of Sochi when it plunged into the sea.

The Adler airport serves Sochi.

Victims' friends and relatives gathered in the airport's terminal No. 1, some clutching passenger lists. One middle-aged woman let out a wail and fainted after embracing a relative.

"People are going crazy here," said Artak Amzoyan, 29, who received a call at 4 a.m. from a friend whose wife and daughter had been aboard the A320.

Since then, Amzoyan said, he and others had relied mostly on television reports for information.

"We left a contact phone [with authorities], but no one has called us with any information," he said.

An emergency official at the airport who was manning a telephone hotline for victims' relatives said he had received more than 1,500 calls that day from relatives of about 80 of the victims.

At another gathering of relatives in Sochi's Hotel Moskva, where photographs of victims were on display, more than a few expressed frustration at the lack of information.

Sansar Tsatiktyan, 47, said his son had been on the late-night flight to visit him. "I have no idea whether my son is in the morgue or in the sea," Tsatiktyan said.

President Vladimir Putin contacted Armenian President Robert Kocharyan on Wednesday morning to express his condolences and promise aid for the victims' families, according to the Kremlin's web site. Putin and Kocharyan declared Friday a day of mourning in the two countries.

A search-and-rescue team of 40 boats and more than 500 specialists worked through the day to recover the bodies of victims but was hindered by heavy rain and stormy seas, Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Yevgeny Serebryannikov said. As of late Wednesday, the bodies of 49 victims had been recovered and brought to the Sochi morgue.

The victims recovered were not wearing life vests, suggesting that passengers did not have time to prepare for the crash.

The plane took off from Yerevan at 1:47 a.m. local time, according to an account of the crash that Armenian civil aviation authority chief Artyom Movsisyan provided to reporters in Yerevan. The pilot opted mid-flight to return to Yerevan due to bad weather but then received a communication from Sochi indicating that conditions had improved.

The plane made its first approach toward Adler airport around 3 a.m. local time but was unable to land due to poor visibility. The plane circled and made a second approach, during which visibility again dropped below minimum acceptable levels. Air traffic controllers advised the pilot to climb to 600 meters.

It was during the climb, at 3:15 a.m., that the plane made a sharp turn and dropped off Adler airport's radar, a member of the airport's technical staff said, Interfax reported.

"The A320's speed was about 250 kilometers per hour, which may not have been enough for it to gain altitude," the source said.

The plane hit the water at a steep angle, Beltsov said.

Pilot error may have contributed to the crash, Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov told journalists in London, where he was on a visit Wednesday.

"According to preliminary information, the plane crashed due to mistakes by the pilot," Tkachyov aide Yevgeny Gavrilets told Interfax.

Armavia deputy commercial director Andrei Agadzhanov said the plane, which was built in 1995 and had been in service with Armavia since 2002, had been in excellent condition, Itar-Tass reported. Movsisyan, head of the Armenian civil aviation authority, confirmed that.

Mkhitar Khachatrian / Reuters

Relatives of passengers who were on board the crashed jet watching the news at Yerevan airport on Wednesday.

"This April, the plane underwent a thorough inspection and servicing, and immediately before departure for Sochi the reputable company Savinotekhnik inspected the plane and concluded it was in normal flight condition," Movsisyan told reporters in Yerevan.

A representative of the Krasnodar region Interior Ministry said that circumstantial evidence seemed to rule out an explosion.

"No one in the area of the catastrophe heard an explosion, no one saw a flash in the sky. In the sea near the crash site no wreckage from the plane has yet been found. There is only a large oily patch. If there had been an explosion, the fuel would have caught fire," a ministry source told Itar-Tass.

"At this stage, we have not established any information indicating the possibility of a terrorist act on the plane," Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel said Wednesday, Interfax reported.

Shepel departed for Sochi early Wednesday to head a criminal investigation into the crash.

Officials said they would not be able to conclusively determine the reason for the crash until the plane's black box had been recovered from the water, though one official said doing so might prove impossible.

Rudolf Teimurazov, technical flight safety director for the International Aviation Committee, said that the depth of the water and silty sea floor could make it impossible to recover the black box, Interfax reported.

Emergency officials said the plane's fuselage was at a depth of 600 meters.

A320 Crashes
Since its 1988 introduction, the popular single-aisle Airbus A320 jet family has suffered six serious accidents that resulted in passenger or crew fatalities:
Adler, Russia -- May 3, 2006
Airline: Armavia
On-board fatalities: 113
Phase of flight: Scheduled approach
Year of manufacture: 1995
Manama, Bahrain -- Aug. 23, 2000
Airline: Gulf Air
On-board fatalities: 143
Phase of flight: Scheduled landing, go-around
Year of manufacture: 1994
Warsaw -- Sept. 14, 1993
Airline: Lufthansa
On-board fatalities: 2
Phase of flight: Scheduled landing; roll
Year of manufacture: 1990
Strasbourg, France -- Jan. 20, 1992
Airline: Air Inter
On-board fatalities: 87
Phase of flight: Scheduled approach
Year of manufacture: 1988
Bangalore, India -- Feb. 14, 1990
Airline: Indian Airlines
On-board fatalities: 92
Phase of flight: Scheduled approach
Year of manufacture: 1989
Mulhouse, France -- June 26, 1988
Airline: Air France
On-board fatalities: 3
Phase of flight: Air show fly-past
Year of manufacture: 1988
Total fatalities: 440
Source: Airclaims Special Bulletin SB363
-- AP

The black box was never recovered after a similar plane crash in the Black Sea in 1972, Teimurazov said.

"The equipment that can operate at that depth and under those conditions doesn't yet exist," he said.

But former Black Sea Fleet Admiral Igor Kasatonov said the fleet had the equipment needed for a full recovery operation.

"It's possible to survey the area where the plane fell with special underwater devices and pin down the locations of even small objects," Kasatonov said, Interfax reported. "After determining the location of the plane's wreckage, one possibility is to lift it using deep-water trawls."

Transportation Minister Igor Levitin, who was chosen to head a Russian commission to aid victims' families and deal with other consequences of the crash, assured reporters in Sochi that the black box would be found.

The commission also includes Tkachyov, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov.

Kocharyan sent his own investigative commission to Sochi, including civil aviation officials, Armavia employees and relatives of the victims.

Artak Antonyan, deputy director of Grand, Armavia's insurer, told reporters in Yerevan that relatives of the victims would each receive $20,000 from the insurance company.

Armenian parliamentary deputies also said they would take up a collection for the victims' families, Itar-Tass reported.

Russian airline Sibir acquired 70 percent of Armavia, Armenia's largest air carrier, in 2003.

An Aeroflot flight in 1972 crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff from Adler airport, killing 105 people.

In 2001, another Sibir passenger flight crashed into the sea after being hit by a Ukrainian missile fired during military exercises, killing all 78 people on board.

And in 2004, a Sibir flight headed from Moscow to Sochi was one of two passenger planes that exploded in midair within minutes of each other in what were ruled to be terrorist attacks. Ninety people died in the two bombings.

Staff Writer Steven Boykewich contributed to this report from Moscow.