Fri, May 05, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Grim search for victims of Black Sea crash continues

NO SURVIVORS Relatives began the harrowing task of identifying the victims from the Armenian Airbus A320 which crashed into the sea off Russia on Wednesday

AFP , SOCHI, RUSSIA

Relatives of those who died when an Armenian plane crashed into the Black Sea arrive at Adler airport in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Rescuers searched through the night yesterday for more bodies from an Armenian jet that crashed into the Black Sea off Russia's coast, as relatives began to identify the remains of the 113 people on board.

"Boats are going to continue to work tonight in the place where the plane fell," Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin told a news conference in the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

All the passengers and crew are believed to have perished when the Airbus A320 operated by the Armenian airline Armavia plunged into the sea as it tried to land at Sochi in bad weather on a flight from the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Victims' relatives overwhelmed the authorities as they began the harrowing task of identifying their loved ones from photographs taken of the 47 bodies, including one child, recovered from the water so far.

Hopes for an orderly process quickly evaporated when relatives rushed all at once to view the photos posted in a Sochi hotel.

One sobbing woman passed out and was laid out on a stretcher, and was soon joined by a man who also lost consciousness.

Doctors and nurses attempted to comfort the relatives, providing drinks of water and sedatives, but ran out of drugs.

"We don't have any more sedatives and we have the whole night ahead of us," a nurse said.

A Russian government plane was set to return the first identified remains to Armenia yesterday, Levitin said.

Amid choppy seas, rescuers worked in a fleet of small vessels and with floating cranes, hauling ashore human remains in black plastic sacks, as well as pieces of fuselage, baggage and life vests.

The tail section of the aircraft had also been raised and investigators were listening to a recording of conversations between the flight crew and ground control, news agency ITAR-TASS said.

But with the remains of the aircraft submerged in more than 400m of water, there was no sign of the black box flight recorder.

"We did not find the black box in the tail of the plane," Levitin said. "We are going to continue the search in other parts of the plane or in the sea."

A spokeswoman for Russia's prosecutor general said terrorism had been ruled out as a cause of the crash.

In Yerevan, a spokeswoman for Armenia's civil aviation authority, Gayane Davdyan, said that the crash was the result of "poor weather conditions, notably poor visibility."

An official with Russia's air traffic control authority, said there had been no distress signal.

The plane went off the radar screens at 2:15am on Wednesday as it attempted a second landing at Adler airport near Sochi after heavy rain had reduced visibility, Armenian and Russian officials said.

The pilot had decided to return to Yerevan after the aborted first landing attempt, but wheeled round again after being informed that the rain had cleared.

Armenia's civil aviation agency said that the aircraft was in "excellent condition" as it had been entirely dismantled, checked and reassembled last month.

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