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Search for the wreckage of the Tu-154 completed in the Black Sea What do we know about the plane crash?

15:06, 29 december 2016

Photo: Vladimir Velengurin / Russian Emergency Ministry / AP / Scanpix / LETA

On December 29, a Russian government commission announced that the search for wreckage and human remains in the Tu-154 disaster had been completed. The team managed to find both of the airplane’s black boxes at the bottom of the Black Sea. The recordings revealed that there was no explosion on board. The commission also reported on the last words of the airplane’s pilots before its descent. Meduza provides a summary of the information gathered so far.

There was a technical failure aboard the Tu-154 just before it fell. The pilots had time to report it. Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed that there is a recording of the captain announcing an emergency. What exactly he said has not been specified. This was the Ministry’s response to a short excerpt that had allegedly come from the black box and was published by news source Life. The publication claimed that it had received this excerpt from a voice recorder. The Ministry said that it would investigate how exactly the publication got its hands on the recording. In the Life excerpt, the pilot is said to have said two meaningful phrases: “The flaps, damn it” and “Captain, we’re going down!”

A flap failure alone could not have led to the aircraft’s descent. According to experts interviewed by newspaper Kommersant, such scenarios are covered in pilots’ training exercises. The experts believe that the pilots may have pulled too hard on the wheel of the aircraft, which could have caused the airplane to fall into the sea. A source told news agency TASS that before the descent, the aircraft’s nose was positioned upwards, which is why it toppled to the left and fell into the water. The Defense Ministry declined to comment on the angle at which the plane had crashed into the Black Sea, but noted that, having flown out the Adler, the airplane could not have risen above 250 meters. The flight of the Tu-154 lasted a mere 70 seconds.

The full transcription of the black box recording will be revealed in a month, but the investigative team is no longer considering the scenario that there had been an explosion abroad the airplane. The recording revealed that there had been no explosion aboard the airplane. “But a terrorist attack is not [necessarily] just an explosion,” said Sergey Baynetov, the head of flight safety department in of Russia’s Armed Forces. Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, who heads the government’s investigative team on this disaster, said that the commission was still looking into whether the crash had occurred as a result of a terrorist attack, but that it saw other scenarios as more likely. According to Baynetov, the investigative team started out with a total of 15 scenarios, but has since reduced them to less than half that amount. It is expected that the analysis of the black box recordings will be completed by January 2017, around the same time that the autopsy results of all of the bodies pulled from the wreckage will be made known.

The commission was able to recover 19 bodies and 230 pieces from the aircraft in the Black Sea. The funeral of Oksana Badrutdinova – the assistant of the head of the culture department of Russia’s Defense Ministry – was held on December 28 in a suburb of Moscow called Mytischi. Her body was identified first. The relatives of the victims have already begun to receive compensation of up to 7.8 million rubles (approximately $128,800) for the families of military members and up to three million rubles (approximately $49,500) for the families of civilians. Sberbank said that it would write off the debts on loans taken out by all of its customers aboard the airplane.

The Defense Ministry has begun making plans to hold auditions to recreate the Alexandrov chorus and dance ensemble, all of whose members had died in the crash. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered that 70 apartments be allocated to the new performers. The auditions are expected to take place in early 2017.