MOSCOW Dec 26 Russia held a national day of
mourning on Monday, a day after a Syria-bound military plane
crashed into the Black Sea killing all 92 people on board, and
expanded a search operation to try to recover passengers' bodies
and the jet's black box.
The plane, a Russian Defence Ministry TU-154, was carrying
dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members
to Syria where they were meant to entertain Russian troops in
the run-up to the New Year.
Nine Russian reporters were also on board as well as
military servicemen and Elizaveta Glinka, a prominent member of
President Vladimir Putin's advisory human rights council.
Flags were flown at half-mast on Monday, mourners placed
flowers at the airport in Sochi, southern Russia, where the
plane took off from, and in front of the Moscow headquarters of
the Russian Army's Alexandrov song and dance troupe.
Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov told reporters on
Monday that pilot error or a technical fault were the most
likely explanations for the tragedy.
"The main versions (for the crash) do not include the idea
of a terrorist act," Sokolov told a news conference in Sochi,
the RIA news agency reported.
"So we are working on the assumption that the reasons for
the catastrophe could have been technical or a pilot error."
The jet, a Soviet-era Tupolev plane built in 1983, had been
carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members.
Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a Defence Ministry
spokesman, said on Monday that 11 bodies had been recovered so
far and that a huge sea and air search operation involving
around 3,500 people was being expanded.
Thirty nine ships, five helicopters, a drone, and more than
100 divers were involved, he said, and soldiers were scouring
the Black Sea coastline as well.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrey Ostroukh)