A Russian military jet with 92 people on board has crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria, Russian news agencies reported on Sunday.
They said it was unlikely there would be any survivors. A criminal investigation has opened on the crash, Sputnik news reported.
Russian news agencies, citing unnamed security sources, said the TU-154 aircraft had crashed in the sea near the southern Russian city of Sochi after disappearing from radar screens.
Among the 84 passengers of the plane were Russian servicemen as well as members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the army’s official musical group internationally known as the Red Army Choir, who were headed to Syria to participate in New Year celebrations at the airbase.
There were also eight crew members onboard, the ministry said.
Nine journalists were among the passengers, with state-run channels Pervy Kanal, NTV and Zvezda saying they each had three staff onboard the flight.
Fragments of the plane have already been found at a depth of 50-70 metres at a distance of around 1.5 kilometres (0.93 miles)from the Russian coast, agencies reported
Russia’s RIA news agency, citing an unidentified security source, said preliminary data indicated that the plane had crashed because of a technical malfunction or a pilot error.
The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed source as saying the plane had not sent an SOS signal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Sunday it was too early to say what had caused the crash. President Vladimir Putin was being kept informed of latest developments, Peskov added.
Russia’s Defence Ministry regularly flies musicians into Syria to put on concerts for military personnel. The base they were heading for, Hmeymim, is in Latakia province. It is from there that Russia flies air strikes against Syrian rebels.
Earlier in December, another Russian Defence Ministry crashed in Siberia with 39 people on board as it tried to make an emergency landing near a Soviet-era military base. Nobody was been killed in that incident, though 32 people were airlifted to hospital.