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Russia observes day of mourning over 92 killed in Black Sea jet crash

The plane, a Russian Defense Ministry TU-154, was carrying dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members to Syria
A worker lowers the Russian national flag to half-mast as the country observes a day of mourning in Krasnoyarsk, Russia on 26 December (Reuters)

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 Defense 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.

'No survivors' as Syria-bound Russian jet crashes

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.

Meanwhile, up to 3,000 passengers and staff were evacuated from three rail terminals in Moscow on Monday following bomb threats, according to Russia's state-run news agency Sputnik.

"Phone calls warning of bombs at the Kazansky and Leningradsky railway stations prompted evacuations of a thousand of people from each site. Further 750 people were evacuated from the Yaroslavsky station.
We are waiting for explosive-sniffing dogs," Sputnik, the English language version of RIA Novosti, said Monday citing a source in the emergency services.

Investigation continues

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.

Russian Emergencies Ministry members work at quay of Black Sea near crash site of Russian military Tu-154 plane in Khosta (Reuters)
Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a Defense 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.

History of accidents 

The Tupolev aircraft maker's Tu-154 is an ageing Russian workhorse whose record is plagued with accidents.

Although Russian commercial airlines are no longer known to use the plane - which first flew in 1972 and went out of production in 1994 - it is still used by the military. 

In spite of the tragedy, Russia's Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov told local news agencies Sunday that permanently retiring all Tu-154 aircraft would be "premature".

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