All 92 on Syria-bound Russian military jet killed in crash, including 60 from Red Army Choir

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian military plane carrying 92 people, including dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, killing everyone on board, Russian authorities said.

The Russian Defence Ministry said one of its TU-154 Tupolev planes had disappeared from radar screens at 0525 MSK (9.25 p.m. ET), two minutes after taking off from Sochi in southern Russia, where it had stopped to refuel from Moscow, on its way to Syria.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a ministry spokesman, told reporters that nobody had survived.

SEE MORE: Russia searches for survivors of crash

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Russian military jet crashes into Black Sea
SOCHI, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 25 : Rescuers carry the body of a victim of Russian Defense Ministry's TU-154 crash, found at the site of the Tu-154 plane crash near Sochi, Russia, 25 December 2016. A Tu-154 aircraft of the Russian Defense Ministry has crashed in the Black Sea after it disappeared from radar, regional emergency service said on December 25, 2016. The aircraft was en route to Syrias Latakia to take part in a New Year's concert. Among the 92 people onboard the crashed plane, eight were crew members, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement. The ministry confirmed that there were also nine journalists along with musicians from the Red Army Choir, or the Alexandrov Ensemble. (Photo by Ekaterina Lyzlova/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 25, 2016: A search and rescue operation at the crash site of a Russian Defense Ministry plane. A Tupolev Tu-154 plane of the Russian Defense Ministry with 92 people on board crashed into the Black Sea near the city of Sochi on December 25, 2016. The plane was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, Russian servicemen and journalists to Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria. Fragments of the plane were found about 1.5km from Sochi coastline. Artur Lebedev/TASS (Photo by Artur Lebedev\TASS via Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 25 : Rescue boats search for the wreckage of a crashed Russian Tu-154 plane, belonging to the Russian Defense Ministry near the coastline of Sochi, Russia on December 25, 2016. A Tu-154 aircraft of the Russian Defense Ministry has crashed in the Black Sea after it disappeared from radar, regional emergency service said on December 25, 2016. The aircraft was en route to Syrias Latakia to take part in a New Year's concert. Among the 92 people onboard the crashed plane, eight were crew members, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement. The ministry confirmed that there were also nine journalists along with musicians from the Red Army Choir, or the Alexandrov Ensemble. (Photo by Ekaterina Lyzlova/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 25, 2016: A search and rescue operation at the crash site of a Russian Defense Ministry plane. A Tupolev Tu-154 plane of the Russian Defense Ministry with 92 people on board crashed into the Black Sea near the city of Sochi. The plane was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, Russian servicemen and journalists to Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria. Fragments of the plane were found about 1.5km from Sochi coastline. Artur Lebedev/TASS (Photo by Artur Lebedev\TASS via Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 25 : Rescue boats search for the wreckage of a crashed Russian Tu-154 plane, belonging to the Russian Defense Ministry near the coastline of Sochi, Russia on December 25, 2016. A Tu-154 aircraft of the Russian Defense Ministry has crashed in the Black Sea after it disappeared from radar, regional emergency service said on December 25, 2016. The aircraft was en route to Syrias Latakia to take part in a New Year's concert. Among the 92 people onboard the crashed plane, eight were crew members, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement. The ministry confirmed that there were also nine journalists along with musicians from the Red Army Choir, or the Alexandrov Ensemble. (Photo by Ekaterina Lyzlova/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 25 : Rescue boats search for the wreckage of a crashed Russian Tu-154 plane, belonging to the Russian Defense Ministry near the coastline of Sochi, Russia on December 25, 2016. A Tu-154 aircraft of the Russian Defense Ministry has crashed in the Black Sea after it disappeared from radar, regional emergency service said on December 25, 2016. The aircraft was en route to Syrias Latakia to take part in a New Year's concert. Among the 92 people onboard the crashed plane, eight were crew members, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement. The ministry confirmed that there were also nine journalists along with musicians from the Red Army Choir, or the Alexandrov Ensemble. (Photo by Ekaterina Lyzlova/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 25 : Rescue boats search for the wreckage of a crashed Russian Tu-154 plane, belonging to the Russian Defense Ministry near the coastline of Sochi, Russia on December 25, 2016. A Tu-154 aircraft of the Russian Defense Ministry has crashed in the Black Sea after it disappeared from radar, regional emergency service said on December 25, 2016. The aircraft was en route to Syrias Latakia to take part in a New Year's concert. Among the 92 people onboard the crashed plane, eight were crew members, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement. The ministry confirmed that there were also nine journalists along with musicians from the Red Army Choir, or the Alexandrov Ensemble. (Photo by Ekaterina Lyzlova/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Flowers in memory of passengers and crew members of Russian military Tu-154, which crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, are placed at an embankment in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russia, December 26, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People lay flowers in memory of passengers and crew members of Russian military Tu-154, which crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, at an embankment in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russia, December 26, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Specialists unload submersibles for underwater search, after Russian military Tu-154 crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, at a port of the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russia December 26, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
A woman lights a candle next to flowers and a portrait of one of the victims, famous Russian charity activist and founder of the Voters' League Elizaveta Glinka or Dr Liza, at a makeshift memorial at the embankment on the shore of the Black Sea in Sochi, on December 27, 2016, as rescue vessels search the area two days after a military plane carrying 92 people, including dozens of members of the Red Army Choir, crashed in the Black Sea. The main black box of the Syria-bound Russian military plane that crashed into the Black Sea with 92 people onboard has been found in a massive ongoing search operation, authorities said on December 27, 2016. The Tu-154 jet, whose passengers included more than 60 members of the internationally renowned Red Army Choir, was heading to Russia's military airbase in Syria when it went down off the coast of the resort city of Sochi shortly after take-off on December 25. / AFP / VASILY MAXIMOV (Photo credit should read VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 26, 2016: Emergency workers recover Tupolev Tu-154 wreckage from the black Sea. The Tu-154 plane of the Russian Defense Ministry with 92 people on board crashed into the Black Sea near the city of Sochi on December 25, 2016. The plane was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, Russian servicemen and journalists, and Yelizaveta Glinka (known as Doctor Liza), Spravedlivaya Pomoshch [Just Aid] International Public Organisation director, to Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria. Fragments of the plane were found about 1.5km from Sochi coastline. Press office of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry/TASS (Photo by TASS\TASS via Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 26:Specialists unload submersibles for underwater search, after Russian military Tu-154 crashed into the Black Sea, at a port of the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on December 26, 2016 in Sochi, Russia. Tupolev Tu-154 was carrying 92 people, including 68 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the official choir of the Russian Armed Forces, previously known as the Red Army Choir, nine journalists, and eight crew, as well as several servicemen. One of the people aboard was a famous Russian human rights activist, Yelizaveta Glinka (known as Doctor Liza). The plane crashed en route to Syria where the band had been going to perform during the New Year concert. (Photo by Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant via Getty Images)
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"The area of the crash site has been established. No survivors have been spotted," he said. An unnamed ministry source told Russian news agencies no life rafts had been found, while another source told the Interfax agency that the plane had not sent an SOS signal.

In televised comments, President Vladimir Putin, speaking in St Petersburg, declared Dec. 26 a national day of mourning.

The jet, a Soviet-era Tupolev plane built in 1983, had been carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members.

At least 60 were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, better known internationally as the Red Army Choir, and were being flown out to Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria to entertain troops in the run-up to the New Year.


Nine Russian reporters were also on board as well as military servicemen.

Konashenkov said fragments of the plane had been found at a depth of about 70 meters (yards) in the Black Sea about 1.5 km (1 mile) off the coast near the city of Sochi.

"The search operation is continuing," said Konashenkov. "Four ships, four helicopters, and a plane and a drone are working in the area," he said, saying a military commission had flown to Sochi to look into what happened.

Six ships from Russia's Black Sea fleet were on their way to the crash site, and more than 100 divers were being drafted in to search the area along with a mini-submarine.

Konashenkov said four bodies had been recovered from the sea. Russian news agencies cited a higher figure.

Russia's RIA news agency, citing an unidentified security source, said preliminary information indicated that the plane had crashed because of a technical malfunction or a pilot error. Another source told Russian agencies that the possibility of a militant act had been ruled out. The weather had been good.

Konashenkov said the plane had last been serviced in September and undergone more major repairs in December 2014. He said the pilot was experienced and that the plane had about 7,000 flying hours on its clock.

According to the defense ministry's passenger manifest, Elizaveta Glinka, a member of Putin's advisory human rights council, was on the plane.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters it was too early to say what had caused the crash. Putin was being kept constantly informed of the latest developments, Peskov said.

Russian military investigators said in a statement they had opened a criminal investigation into the crash.

The Kremlin said Putin expressed his deepest condolences to those who had lost loved ones in the crash and ordered Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to head a government investigatory commission.

Russia's Defence Ministry regularly flies musicians into Syria to put on concerts for military personnel. The base they were heading for, Hmeymim, is in Latakia province. It is from there that Russia launches air strikes against Syrian rebels.

The last big TU-154 crash was in 2010 when a Polish jet carrying then-president Lech Kaczynski and much of Poland's political elite crashed in western Russia killing everyone on board.

Russian news agencies cited Denis Manturov, the Russian Transport Minister, as saying on Sunday it was premature to talk about withdrawing the TU-154 from service.

On Dec. 19, a Russian military jet crashed in Siberia with 39 people on board as it tried to make an emergency landing near a Soviet-era military base. Nobody was killed in that incident, though 32 people were airlifted to hospital.

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk and Svetlana Reiter; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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