A Defense Ministry plane carrying journalists and musicians from a military band to Syria crashed soon after take-off from Sochi. Although the Defense Ministry has ruled out terrorism as the cause of the crash, some experts imply that the plane exploded in the sky. This might mean that the incident could have resulted from a well-orchestrated terrorist attack.

A rescue operation on the Black Sea coast at the crash site of Russian Defense Ministry's TU-154 aircraft. Photo: RIA Novosti

A Russian Defense Ministry Tu-154 aircraft crashed into the Black Sea en route to Syria on Dec. 25. According to the latest update from the Ministry of Defense, there were 92 people on board, including 68 members of the famous Alexandrov military band, nine journalists and eight crewmembers. Chairman of the Federation Council Defense and Security Committee Viktor Ozerov said that the tragedy might have been caused by a technical malfunction or pilot error.

"The theory of terrorism is out of the question,” he said. “It was a Defense Ministry aircraft, flying in Russian airspace. That theory is out of the question."

According to Russian media reports, the incident occurred as the aircraft was picking up altitude. However, the crew did not send out any distress signals. Debris from the aircraft have been found 1 mile off the Sochi coast (1,020 miles south of Moscow). Response from the Kremlin Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov responded immediately after the incident.

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"From the very start, the president was informed that the aircraft had dropped off the radars,” he told journalists. “At the moment, emergency services are working together with services of the Defense Ministry. As you know, the plane belongs to the Defense Ministry. All information is reported in real time as new details emerge. So far, it is too early to assert anything. The president is waiting until the picture becomes more clear," Peskov said.

Russian media report that debris from the Tu-154 can be recovered from the depths of the sea within a week under favorable weather conditions.

"Depths of 50-70 meters are not that submerged and major fragments can be recovered with the help of soft pontoons," Vladimir Gritsikhin, the head of the monitoring service of the All-Russia Water Rescue Society, told TASS, pointing to the fact that the water temperature at this depth is always above zero.

"I think that all the fragments can be recovered in a week if all services work promptly," he added. "The weather is fine now and we should utilize it."

At the same time, a source in Russia’s Defense Ministry said that over 3,000 people are currently taking part in the search and rescue operation in the Black Sea where the Tu-154 plane crashed. The identification of the remains of those killed in the Tu-154 crash near Sochi would require forensic genetics, chief psychiatrist of the Russian Ministry of Health Zurab Kekelidze told RIA Novosti.

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Regardless of the fact that Russia’s Defense Ministry denies the possibility of another terrorist attack, some experts don’t rule out this version while hinting that the crash might have resulted from a well-organized terror attack by those who could have infiltrated in Russia’s defense forces.

Andrei Krasnoperov, a Russian monitor pilot and a major of Russia Air Forces, argues that the fact that the debris of the plane were scattered within about 15 kilometers indicates that the aircraft could have exploded in the sky.

“The plane fell to pieces, it just fell to pieces,” he told Kommersant radio station. “It means that it exploded [in the sky]. And this means that somebody might have received a handbag [with explosive] somewhere from somebody, given the fact that the plane flew to Syria. Somebody could have carried something and put it in suitcases with musical instruments.”

The plane crash took place six days after the assassination of Russian Ambassador in Turkey Andrei Karlov on Dec. 19. He died of wounds shortly after he got shot in Ankara.

"We qualify the events as a terrorist attack ... . The attackers will be punished," Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “Terrorism will not pass, we will take resolute efforts against it.”

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Karlov was shot dead by a police officer who shouted “Don’t forget Aleppo” as he pulled the trigger. “Don’t forget Syria,” the assassin added. The assassination took place amidst the Russian military involvement in the Syrian civil war, which was met with an outcry in some Middle Eastern countries.

Last year in early November, shortly after the Kremlin launched its military operation in Syria, a Russian plane crashed over Egypt as a result of a terrorist attack. It claimed the lives of 224 people. Although initially the investigators were very hesitant about their conclusions and denied the version of terrorism (despite the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria having claimed responsibility), Director of the Federal Security Service Alexander Bortnikov admited on November 17, 2015 that that the plane was blown up by terrorists.