Jet crashes off Russia, 113 killed

Wednesday, May 3, 2006; Posted: 8:13 a.m. EDT (12:13 GMT)
MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- An Armenian passenger plane crashed in stormy weather Wednesday off Russia's Black Sea coast, killing all 113 people on board.

The Airbus A-320, which belonged to the Armenian airline Armavia, disappeared from radar screens about four miles from its destination, the southern Russian city of Sochi, emergency officials said.

Officials said all 113 people aboard the plane, including six children, were killed.

Armenian airline officials said they believed the crash was due to the poor weather. Investigators said they did not believe terrorism was a factor.

The crash happened early Wednesday during a short flight from the Armenian capital of Yerevan to Sochi, a resort city on the Black Sea about 350 miles away.

The victims' relatives gathered later Wednesday at Yerevan airport for a charter flight to Sochi after the crash. Gurgen Seroboyan, whose 23-year-old fiancee Lucenie Gevorkian was a flight attendant on the plane, wept as he waited.

"We were planning to get married and then this tragedy happened," he told The Associated Press.

Samvel Oganesian told AP his 23-year-old son Vram and his friend Hamlet Abgarian had been heading to Sochi for vacation. "Why did he go?" Oganesian asked repeatedly in anguish.

In Sochi's airport, about 100 tearful relatives -- nearly all Armenians -- kept up an anguished vigil in a waiting hall. One man became hysterical and had to be taken away by ambulance, AP reported.

A spokesman for the Russian emergencies ministry said rescue workers had found baggage, life jackets, body parts, pieces of the shattered plane and a patch of oil floating on the surface of the sea at the crash site.

Search and rescue teams had pulled 39 bodies from the water by mid-afternoon, emergency officials told AP. None was wearing a life jacket, indicating they did not have time to prepare for an emergency landing.

Armavia said 26 Russians, one Ukrainian and one Georgian were among the passengers. The rest were Armenian citizens.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian President Robert Kocharian declared Friday a day of mourning in both countries, the Kremlin said.

Plane's pilots told to circle
The plane with 105 passengers and eight crew members disappeared from radar at about 2:15 a.m. local time.

Officials said the plane went down while trying to make a repeat attempt at an emergency landing, but the Interfax news agency quoted the Russian air control agency as saying that the plane's crew had not declared any emergency.

Andrei Agadzhanov, Armavia's deputy commercial director, said the crew had communicated with Sochi ground controllers while the plane was flying over the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

The ground controllers reported stormy weather but told the crew the plane could still land, he said.

Just before the landing, however, the ground controllers told the plane's pilots to circle again before approaching the airport. Then the plane crashed.

The plane broke up on impact with the water, and wreckage was scattered over a wide area, officials said. Salvage workers said the fuselage was recovered at a depth of more than 1,300 feet.

Rough seas, driving rain and low visibility were hampering the search, Russian news agencies reported. A deep-sea robot was to be used to try to recover the plane's black box.

The plane was manufactured in 1995 and had been acquired on leasing by the airline. The aircraft underwent full-scale servicing a year ago.