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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: December 26, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Kremlin Says Terrorism 'Not Likely' Cause of Tu-154 Crash, But Questions Remain
The Kremlin has stated that terrorism is not likely the cause of the crash of the Tu-154 bound from Sochi for Syria yesterday, December 25, killing all 92 on board, Gazeta and Al Jazeera reported.

A knowledgeable source told Interfax that overweight and technical failure may have been the reason for the crash.

The source said that "eye-witness reports and other objective data" obtained in the course of the investigation said "the plan could not gain altitude for some reason, possibly overload and technical malfunction and crashed into the sea." He said eyewitnesses said the plain flew low for an unusually long time and did not climb.

Experts have discussed the possibility of a bomb and intelligence is investigating that possibility.

But a source in the FSB said there were no evidence of this yet, Gazeta reported.

The plane was carefully checked at the military air base of Chkalovsky where it took off. Re-fueling had been planned at another army base in Mozdok, but instead due to weather conditions, the plane landed at the Sochi Airport in Adler for refueling. Thus the location was not known in advance. In Sochi, the plane was under guard, and there were no food deliveries; only a pilot got out to supervise the re-fueling, which was done by airport personnel.

A massive search is under way involving more than 45 ships and 3,500 people including 135 divers over 10 square kilometers, Gazeta reported.

More than 24 hours have passed since the crash, but searchers have not yet found the black box or significant pieces of the airplane, nor even most of the victims. Four fragments have been found, Sputnik International reported; these included the fuselage, heavily damaged.

The Russian Emergencies Ministry has published a video showing workers taking the fragments out of the sea.

Подъем обломков Ту-154: видео МЧС

Details... →
Dec 26, 2016 21:25 (GMT)

Gazeta said many questions remain: at what angle the plane fell, what the crew was doing at the moment of the crash and why the flight's path was abruptly changed before it crashed.

REN-TV published an audio file of what purports to be the last conversation of the pilots of the Tu-154 with a dispatcher at ground control. The conversations do not appear to indicate anything out of the ordinary. 

Authorities have been working to dispel conspiracy theories. The Defense Ministry announced today that claims that the victims were found wearing life jackets, i.e. that they had time to prepare for the crash were not true, RBC reported. RIA Novosti had earlier reported, citing a source familiar with the rescue operation, that some bodies were found in the jackets.

A number of media have published a video said to be surveillance footage of the scene that shows a flash. But authorities say the burst of light occurred after the crash, not before.

Some commentators have pointed out that nearly all Russian commercial airlines have rejected the Tu-154 for flights because it was designed in the Soviet era when fuel was very low cost. Most planes were made by foreign manufacturers because they conserve fuel better. Only a few dozen Tu-154s, described as a "workhorse" are in service. The plane involved in the Polish Air Force crash in Smolensk in April 2010, killing the president of Poland Lech Kadzynski, his wife, and other top officials found for a ceremony in memory of the Katyn massacre, was also a Tu-154. There have been a number of other crashes of Tu-154 over the years; Russia's air safety has been described as far worse than the rest of Europe's but less than the US, which has far more flights.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick