A Russian military aircraft has crashed over the Black Sea shortly after losing contact with air traffic control, local media have cited the Russian Defense Ministry as saying.
The Tu-154 airliner was carrying 91 people, including 83 passengers and eight crew members, according to the ministry. Reports earlier said the plane had gone off radar shortly after takeoff from an airport in Sochi on Sunday.
Local news agencies cited the Defense Ministry as saying later that the Tu-154 plane had crashed shortly after taking off from the southern city of Adler, south of the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, at 5:40 am local time (0240 GMT).
“Fragments of the Tu-154 plane of the Russian Defense Ministry were found 1.5 kilometers from the Black Sea coast of the city of Sochi at a depth of 50 to 70 meters,” the ministry said, adding that a rescue boat had also found a first body presumably belonging to one of the passengers of the plane about six kilometers off the coast.
Military servicemen, journalists, and musicians had been on board.
The ministry said it was conducting a routine flight to Russia’s Hmeimim airbase outside the coastal Syrian city of Latakia. Russia has been carrying out a bombardment campaign against militants in Syria on a request from Damascus. It has two airbases in Syria.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said technical personnel responsible for preparing the plane for takeoff were being questioned to determine whether safety regulations had been violated.
Some reports said piloting error was also a possibility.
Tu-154 aircraft, like the one in the Sunday incident, have been involved in accidents before. In April 2010, high-ranking Polish officials, including then-president Lech Kaczynski, were killed when a Tu-154 airliner crashed while approaching the Smolensk airport in western Russia.