113 passengers on crashed Armenian airline are dead

Divers searched storm-churned waters off Russia 's Black Sea coast early Wednesday, searching for the remains of 113 people who were killed when an Armenian passenger airliner crashed in rough weather as it was heading for a landing, emergency officials said. Armenian airline officials said they believed the crash was due to the stormy weather, but Sergei Kudinov, the head of the southern district office of Russia 's Emergency Situations Ministry, said that the age of the aircraft and technical factors could have been involved. Investigators did not believe terrorism was a factor.

The Airbus A-320, which belonged to the Armenian airline Armavia, disappeared from radar screens just under 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the shore and crashed after making a turn and heading toward the Adler airport near the Russian resort of Sochi, Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said. Rescue officials in the ministry's southern regional branch said the 113 people aboard the plane flying from the Armenian capital Yerevan , including six children, were killed. Gurgen Seroboyan, whose 23-year-old fiancee Lucenie Gevorkian was a flight attendant on the flight, wept as he waited at Yerevan airport for a charter flight that was to take relatives of the crash victims to Sochi .

"We were planning to get married and then this tragedy happened," he said, choking up. Wreckage from the plane was found not far from the shoreline, Beltsov said, and Kudinov said the fuselage was found at a depth of 400 meters (1,320 feet). Search and rescue teams have pulled 26 bodies from the water, regional emergency officials said; none were wearing life jackets, indicating they did not have sufficient warning to prepare for an emergency landing.

The airline said that 26 Russians, 1 Ukrainian and 1 Georgian were among the passengers. The rest were Armenian citizens. Twenty-five boats as well as divers were involved in the search, and a deep-sea robot was to be used to try to recover the plane's black box, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. The water temperature was 12 degrees Celsius (53 F). Passengers' personal belongings and plane fragments were found scattered at the scene over a 1.5-kilometer (1 mile) area.

The plane with 105 passengers and eight crew on board disappeared from radar screens at about 2:15 a.m. (2215 GMT Tuesday), Beltsov said. He said that the plane went down while trying to make a repeat attempt at an emergency landing. However, the Interfax news agency quoted the Russian air control agency as saying that the plane's crew had not declared any emergency.

Armavia deputy commercial deputy Andrei Agadzhanov said in Yerevan that the crew had communicated with Sochi ground controllers while the plane was flying over the Georgian capital, Tbilisi . The ground controllers said there were poor weather conditions but the plane could still land, the representative said. Just before the landing, however, the ground controllers told the crew to make another circle in the air before approaching the airport. Then the plane crashed. He said the crew was highly experienced, the airplane was in good condition and that weather conditions were "certainly" the cause.

The Airbus A-320 was manufactured in 1995 and had been acquired on leasing by the airline. The aircraft underwent full-scale servicing a year ago. Rescuers found parts of the plane some 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the shore, emergency officials said. The plane broke up on impact with the water, and wreckage was thrown into a wide arc, Kudinov said.

Rough seas, driving rain and low visibility were hampering the search, Russian news agencies reported. Agadzhanov said that the airline's deputy general director, Vyacheslav Yaralov, had been aboard. Investigators from the airline and Armenian aviation authorities were to fly to the crash scene later Wednesday morning, reports the AP.

N.U.

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