41 bodies of Black Sea plane crash victims identified, Russia, Armenia mourn

Forty-one of the 53 bodies pulled from the Black Sea after an Armenian airliner crash have been identified, Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin said Friday, as Russia and Armenia observed a day of mourning for the 113 victims of the disaster.

A special diving vehicle was sent to the site of the crash, about six kilometers (four miles) off the southern Russian resort of Sochi, to try to pinpoint the remains of the plane's fuselage on the sea floor.

Levitin said authorities were searching both in Russia and abroad for equipment to raise the fuselage, where some bodies are thought to be trapped.

"I want to say, for us the most important thing now is raising the bodies, because we understand that for the victims' relatives not raising the bodies or fragments would be an even bigger tragedy," Levitin told reporters.

He had said Thursday that searchers had located a large part of the plane's fuselage that was emitting a radio signal believed to be from a flight recorder, and he later said a signal from the plane's other "black box" had been detected.

Relatives gathered at the port of Sochi on Friday morning and boarded a ship that was to sail to the crash site for a ceremony in which mourners were to throw flowers into the sea. Flags were at half-staff across Russia and Armenia, and churches were holding memorial services.

The Airbus A-320 plunged into the sea in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday in heavy rain and poor visibility as it was approaching the airport in Adler, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Sochi, a city wedged between the sea and soaring, snowcapped mountains. Searchers found wreckage spread over a wide area about six kilometers (3.5 miles) offshore, reports the AP.

I.L.