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Two submersibles, more drones join search operation after Tu-154 crash

The search operation involves 45 boats, 15 submersibles, 192 divers, 12 planes and five helicopters

MOSCOW, December 26. /TASS/. Two deep water descent capsules and additional drones have been taken to the zone of the search operation after the crash of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Tu-154 plane, the Russian defense ministry’s press service said on Monday.

"During the day, two manned submersibles of the Russian Geographic Society and addition forces of unmanned aviation joined the search operation," the ministry said. "A Chernomoretsk-11 mobile crane with a capacity of up to 100 tonnes has been taken to the search area to lift large fragments of the plane."

The search operation involves 45 boats, 15 submersibles, 192 divers, 12 planes and five helicopters. By Monday evening, a fragment of the fuselage side skin with windows measuring 3.5 by 4.5 meters was lifted from the sea bottom and taken to the coast, according to the defense ministry.

"Some more fragments, including a part of the tail with engine pieces, were found on the sea bottom. Divers are currently examining them," the ministry said.

All recovered fragments are taken to the coast and handed over to investigators. The search operation is being conducted round-the-clock. One more body was found during the day, the ministry said.

After dark, rescuers use powerful spotlights and floodlight pylons. One more search sector has been allocated in the search area. A coastal-type sweep vessel, a patrol and diver boats and 24 divers were sent to that sector.

According to the Defense Ministry, one of the ten bodies taken earlier to Moscow has been identified by relatives.

"Due to ethical reasons, we will not disclose the names of the victims identified by relatives without their consent," the ministry said. "Any media allegations about concrete people found in the search operation or possible causes of the tragedy have nothing to do with the real situation. These are mere allegations written in chase of references or guesswork of pseudo-experts who have no access to verified information. From the very first hours after the tragedy, the Defense Ministry has been providing reliable information about the situation in the search operation."

"The causes of the crash can be established only by specialists after the flight recorders are found and studied. A special team of divers is involved in the search for the flight recorders," the ministry said.

A Russian defense ministry Tu-154 bound for Syria crashed in the early morning on December 25 shortly after taking off from Sochi. There were 92 people on board the aircraft, including eight crew members and 84 passengers. Among them were journalists from Russia's Channel One, Zvezda and NTV networks, servicemen and musicians from the world-acclaimed Alexandrov ensemble, the official choir of the Russian armed forces, who set off to celebrate New Year’s Eve with Russia’s Aerospace Forces at the Hmeymim air base in Syria. The Executive Director of the Spravedlivaya Pomoshch (Russian for Fair Aid or Fair Help) charity fund Elizaveta Glinka, known to the Russian public as Dr. Liza, was also on board the flight.

A number of Tu-154 fragments were found several hours later some 1.5 km off the coast of Sochi at a depth of 50-70 meters. By now, 13 bodies have been recovered. None of the passengers on the flight survived.

Investigators are considering several theories of the crash, namely the plan’s technical condition or piloting errors, Russian Minister of Transport Maxim Sokolov, who has been appointed head of the government commission probing into the crash, said, adding that a terrorist attack is not among the key theories.

The Russian Investigative Committee opened a criminal case on charges of flight safety rules violations resulting in human death or other serious consequences.