05292017Headline:

Russian plane carrying 92 people crashes off the coast of Sochi

A Russian military plane carrying nearly 100 people, including many musicians and a group of journalists, has crashed into the Black Sea just off the coast of Sochi, officials say. All are believed to have died in the crash.

The Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft was flying from Chkalovsky Airport in Moscow for a flight to Syria but made a refueling stop at Sochi International Airport, from which it departed at 5:40 a.m. local time on Sunday. It disappeared from radar about a minute later.

The search operation initially focused on the Black Sea and a mountainous area in Krasnodar Krai, but the defense ministry later confirmed that an oil slick, parts of an aircraft landing gear, and other items were spotted between 1.5 and 8 kilometers (0.9 mile to 4.9 miles) off the coast of Sochi.

A total of 92 people, including 84 passengers and 8 crew members, were on board the plane, the ministry said. A source in the emergency services told Russian news agency Interfax that there were no signs of survivors and everyone on board is believed to have died in the crash.

Those on board included 64 members of army choir Alexandrov Ensemble, which was heading to Syria to perform at a New Year's concert at the Russian air base Khmeimim in Latakia province. Also on board were 9 journalists and a number of Russian soldiers.

Among the nine journalists on board the plane was NTV Russia sound engineer Eugene Tolstov, who posted a photo of the aircraft and uploaded it to his Facebook account shortly before taking off from Chkalovsky Airport in Moscow.

There was no immediate word on the possible cause of Sunday's accident, though Russia's Investigative Committee said it had opened a criminal investigation on the basis of possible violations of flight rules. Such investigations are a standard procedure when an accident results in mass casualties.

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