Divers searched storm-churned waters off Russia's Black Sea coast Wednesday 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.
Armenian airline officials said they believed the crash was due to stormy weather, and Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said weather was considered the likeliest cause. He said that the clouds were as low as 100 meters (330 feet) at the time of the crash.
Gurgen Serobian, whose 23-year-old fiancee Lusine Gevorkian was an 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 Adler.
Samvel Oganesian said his 23-year-old son Vram and his friend Hamlet Abgarian had been heading to Sochi for vacation. "Why did he go?" Oganesian asked in anguish, over and over again.
About 100 tearful relatives kept up an anguished vigil in a waiting hall of the Adler airport. One man became hysterical and had to be taken away by ambulance. Sobbing women held handkerchiefs to their mouths, while men sat silently, their heads in their hands.
Aram Sargsian, 22, said he had two uncles on the plane who were coming for a week's vacation. "I adored them. This is all like a dream," he said, shaking his head.
Wreckage from the plane was found not far from the shoreline, Beltsov said, and Sergei Kudinov, the head of the emergency ministry's southern office, said the fuselage was found at a depth of 400 meters (1,300 feet). Search and rescue teams hade pulled 39 bodies from the water by mid-afternoon, emergency officials said; none was wearing a life jacket, indicating they did not have time to prepare for an emergency landing.
Twenty-five boats, many carrying divers, were involved in the search, and a deep-sea robot was to be used to try to recover the plane's recorders, the emergency ministry said. But Rudolf Teymurazov of Russia's Intergovernmental Aviation Committee, expressed doubt the recorders could be found because water at the crash site is as deep as 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).
The plane broke up on impact and passengers' personal belongings and plane fragments were found scattered over an area spreading 1.5 kilometers (a mile) from the crash site. Rough seas, driving rain and low visibility were hampering the search, Russian news agencies reported.
Beltsov said the plane disappeared from radar screens at about 2:15 a.m. (2215 GMT Tuesday). He said it 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 ground controllers while the plane was flying over the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The ground controllers said the weather in Adler was poor but the plane could still land, Agadzhanov said. Just before the landing, however, the ground controllers told the crew to make another circle in the air before approaching the airport and then it crashed.
Agadzhanov said the crew was highly experienced, the airplane was in good condition and that weather conditions were "certainly" the cause. The plane was manufactured in 1995 and underwent full-scale servicing a year ago, he said.
(Photolur photo: A sobbing woman reading a list of the dead on a noticeboard at Yerevan's Zvartnots airport.)