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12/25/16

Air Disaster Russiar: Famed Russian Military Choir Among 92 Feared Dead After Plane Crash by Ivan Nechepurenko

A Russian aircraft bound for Syria carrying a famed military band to entertain Russia’s forces there crashed into the Black Sea moments after takeoff Sunday, and the authorities said all 92 people aboard were believed dead.

The cause of the crash is under investigation, although initial Russian news media reports indicated it was a technical failure rather than terrorism.

The Russian military has had only minor casualties throughout its deployment in Syria, but the country has experienced a series of setbacks in recent days.

On Monday, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated at an art exhibit in Ankara, with the killer yelling “don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!”

That came not long after forces from the Islamic State recaptured the storied Syrian city of Palmyra, forcing the Russian garrison that had been stationed there since helping to take the city last spring to flee.

The military plane, a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154, disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off from the resort town of Sochi. Russia’s official weather forecast agency said that conditions near the airport were “normal, easy,” the Interfax news agency reported. The airplane was technically fit, the Defense Ministry said.

Wreckage of the plane, which was carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members, was found in the sea, most of it about one mile from shore, the Russian Defense Ministry said. No survivors have been found at the crash site, Russian officials said.

Passengers on the flight, which originated in Moscow and stopped in Sochi to refuel, included 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the Russian military choir, who were traveling to Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base in Syria. The band planned to serenade Russian personnel in Syria on New Year’s Eve.

President Vladimir V. Putin deployed Russian armed forces in Syria in September 2015, ostensibly to fight terrorism but primarily to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, the leader of the lone remaining Russian ally in the region, whose forces have been fighting an insurgency for nearly six years.

In Moscow, flowers were placedin front of portraits of Russian television journalists who were aboard the crashed military plane. Credit Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

Russian forces have been instrumental in helping the Damascus government regain the initiative, with the final rebels expelled from the besieged city of Aleppo on Thursday.

Three journalists from Channel One, Russia’s main television station, were on the plane, as were journalists from the Zvezda and NTV television networks, news reports said.

Yelizaveta P. Glinka, a prominent Russian philanthropist and a member of the presidential council on human rights and civil society, was also on the list of people on board. Mr. Putin recently honored Mrs. Glinka with a state award for her human rights and charity work. Valery V. Khalilov, the ensemble’s artistic director, was also on the plane, according to the list of passengers.

Mr. Putin expressed his condolences to relatives of the victims, and he declared Monday a national day of mourning. (Christmas is not celebrated as an official holiday in Russia on Dec. 25, because the Russian Orthodox Church observes it on Jan. 7.)

Read more: Famed Russian Military Choir Among 92 Feared Dead After Plane Crashes Into Black Sea - The New York Times

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