Russia Tupolev-154 crash: Huge search operation underway for black boxes, dead bodies

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President declares a nationwide day of mourning on Monday.

Russian plane crash:
Russian Emergencies Ministry members walk on a pier near the crash site of Russian military Tu-154 plane in the Black Sea in the Sochi suburb of Khosta, Russia December 25, 2016. Reuters

A huge search team is conducting round the clock rescue operation in the Black Sea for the passengers of the Russian military plane that crashed on Sunday morning. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, there are apparently no survivors.

Tupolev Tu-154 plane disappeared from radar on Sunday morning at 05:25 (02:25 GMT) after taking off from the Adler airport. It was carrying 92 people, including 84 passengers and eight crew members. The flight had originated in Moscow and landed in Sochi for refuelling.

The ensemble was "flying to congratulate Russian air force pilots in Syria with the New Year," Defence Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov told CNN.

The authorities said some 3,500 people on ships, jets, helicopters and submersibles are involved in the operation near Sochi. The teams worked throughout the night in three shifts, and the operation "did not stop for a minute".

Konashenkov said till now 11 bodies and "154 fragments" have been found since the operation began. He also added that the 10.5 sq km (four square miles) search area just off the coast had been extended.

"Fragments of the Tu-154 plane of the Russian defence ministry were found 1.5km (one mile) from the Black Sea coast of the city of Sochi at a depth of 50m to 70m (165-230ft)," the defence ministry said on Saturday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin went on television and declared a nationwide day of mourning on Monday. "We will conduct a thorough investigation into the reasons and will do everything to support the victims' families," Putin said.

Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said on state television that investigators were looking into a "whole spectrum" of theories regarding the cause of the crash of the Soviet-built Tu-154 plane. But, when he was questioned about the possibility of a terror attack, he said: "It is premature to speak of this."

The authorities are also trying to find out the black boxes that will help in the investigation.