The Kremlin has said that technical problems most likely caused the crash of a Tupolev Tu-154 into the Black Sea on Sunday, after taking off from the coastal town of Sochi. The flight was headed towards Syria, with musicians from the Alexandrov military choir, dancers, other musicians, and journalists, for a New Year’s concert for troops in Syria. A Kremlin statement said that Putin offered his “deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the crash”. Putin also ordered the formation of a state commission to investigate the causes of the crash.

While agencies indicated that they were investigating all possible causes of the crash, investigators said that terrorism was not likely. The national RIA news service said early data suggested that a technical malfunction had caused the crash, citing an anonymous security source.         The plane carried a total of 84 passengers and 8 crew members, of whom there were no survivors.

The defense ministry said that rescuers had found fragments of the plane about one mile from the shore near Adler Airport in Sochi. One unnamed source said that the passenger and crew would have had almost no chance of survival, with no life rafts found, according to Russian news agencies. Another source said that the plane had not sent an SOS signal.

Passengers included Russian service personnel, members of Russia’s Alexandrov Ensemble official military choir, as well as nine journalists, according to defense ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov. The musicians and dancers were traveling to perform for New Year’s Eve at the Khmeimim airbase in western Syria.

The journalists were with the army’s media channel, Zvezda, and state controlled NTC and First Channel.

“The search operation is continuing,” according to Konashenkov. “Four ships, five helicopters and a drone are working in the area.” He added that a military commission was en route to Sochi to determine what had caused the crash.

The Tu-154 plane, which had been designed and widely used in the Soviet era, has been involved in a number of accidents. In 2010, a Tu-154 crashed while in thick fog, approaching Smolensk in western Russia. Passengers included high-ranking polish officials, including Polish President Lech Kaczyński. The Tu-154 has been taken out of commission by a number of Russian airlines, but is still in use by the Russian military.

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