Most of the passengers on the Tu-154 plane that crashed after take-off from Sochi were members of the world-famous Alexandrov army choir, en route to Syria to perform at the Latakia / Hmeymim airbase for a New Year concert.
All members of the Alexandrov Ensemble choir, except for three lead vocalists, were on board the Tu-154 plane that crashed shortly after take-off in Sochi, Vadim Ananiev, a lead vocalist from the choir, told TASS.
Valery Halilov, the head of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the famous army choir of the Russian armed forces, and 64 of its members were on board of the Russian Tu-154 aircraft that crashed into the Black Sea on Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry press service said Sunday.
The list also includes Anton Gubankov, the chief of the Directorate of Culture of the Russian Defense Ministry, and prominent Russian humanitarian activist Elizaveta Glinka, the head of Spravedlivaya Pomoshch (Fair Aid) charity, according to the ministry.
Nine Russian journalists and two civil servants were also on board of the plane. Russia’s Channel One, NTV and Zvezda broadcaster have confirmed that their journalists were among the passengers of the aircraft.
Fragments of the plane were discovered off the shore of Sochi.
According to the Defense Ministry, the crashed Tu-154 was flown by Roman Volkov, a seasoned First Class pilot with an impressive track record of over 3,000 hours spent in the air.
Yuri Sytnik, a Merited Pilot of Russia and a member of the presidential commission on civil aviation, said that everything was possible, including a mid-air collision with a “foreign object,” but added that even then the pilots would have enough time to inform the airport tower about the mishap.
“The Tu-154 is a highly reliable plane, even though it is not the easiest one to fly. In this case the pilot was a real ace and if even he failed to prevent the disaster, then something extraordinary must have happened,” Sytnik said.
He added that even though the Tu-154 was 33 years old, it had been used very sparingly and was very well maintained too. He didn’t think that there could have been an explosion on board because it would have been noticed from the shore.
Meanwhile, officials ruleed out a possible terrorist attack. Viktor Ozerov, head of the Federation Council’s Defense Committee said the crash could have been caused by a technical malfunction or pilot error, but excluded a terrorist act, arguing that the plane was operated by the military.
“I totally exclude the idea of an attack bringing down the plane,” Ozerov told RIA Novosti.
His opinion was echoed by first deputy head of the State Duma’s Defense Committee Andrei Krasov, who likewise ruled out terrorism as the possible cause of the crash.
“I think that something extraordinary must have happened. I just can’t figure out how anything like this could happen to a plane operated by the Defense Ministry. No, this is impossible,” Krasov told RIA.
Veteran test pilot Yuri Vashchuk downplayed the possibility of a technical mishap on board the crashed airliner.
“It must take some really extraordinary situation to cause the simultaneous shutdown of all the three engines. The failure of even one engine is already critical, but I still don’t think that it could lead to a catastrophe,” he said.
The Alexandrov Ensemble, the official choir of the Russian Armed Forces, has earned a place in the music pantheon thanks to an immensely rich and varied repertoire that includes more than 2,000 numbers – from Soviet and folk songs, to famous rock ballads, including Freddie Mercury’s greatest hits.