Investigators have found no trace of an explosion aboard the military Tu-154 that crashed in the Black Sea with 92 on board. However, Russian officials said a terror strike is still among possible causes of the tragedy.
The equipment on the doomed Tu-154 was functioning "abnormally" before the crash, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov told reporters on Thursday.
"As for the cause, it is on experts to work that out," he added. The authorities said they believe it would take at least 30 days to explain the deadly incident.
The Russian-made plane crashed en route to Syria on Sunday, a few minutes after leaving Sochi with members of the Russian military choir on board. The musicians were accompanied by a number of journalists and a well-known Russian humanitarian activist Elizaveta Glinka. The investigators have since recovered the flight recorders and 19 bodies, as well as 230 body fragments from the scene.
Most of the 92 casualties would need to be identified through DNA analysis, said Sokolov.
Plane 'fragmented' on impact
Based on the available evidence, the authorities ruled out a midair blast as the cause of the crash.
"There was no explosion on board, I can say that for certain," said General Sergey Bainetov, head of flight safety for the Russian air force. "But an act of terror does not necessarily mean an explosion, there might be other causes. That is why we are not discarding this version of events."
Bainetov added that the military Tu-154s have been grounded during the investigation, but would mostly likely be reactivated after the probe. In 2010, Russian civilian airliner Aeroflot retired their Tu-154 fleet after several deadly crashes.
The rescue teams have already recovered 13 big pieces and some 2,000 smaller fragments of the transport plane.
"It has been determined that the plane had fragmented completely upon impacting the water and, subsequently, the seabed, which made rescue operations more difficult," the Russian transport minister said.
dj/sms (AP, AFP, Interfax)