By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s national airline, Armavia, continued to carry out regular flights on Wednesday despite the deadly crash of one of its passenger jets that was about to land in the southern Russian city of Sochi.
Even the daily service between Yerevan and Sochi was not fully disrupted by the air disaster, with over a hundred passengers arriving in the Armenian capital on board another Armavia plane late in the afternoon. The return flight was due to be carried by the Airbus A-320 plunged into the Black Sea off the Russian cost in the early hours of Wednesday.
Many of the arriving passengers witnessed the anguish of people at Sochi’s Adler airport whose relatives and friends were on board the doomed airliner. More than 70 other devastated relatives were flown to Sochi from Yerevan on a special Armavia flight to identify the bodies of 46 people which Russian authorities said were recovered from the water as of early evening. Another group of relatives was due to arrive in the Russian resort city later in the day.
“We are shocked,” a woman who just arrived from Sochi told RFE/RL. “People were in a terrible condition. Even men cried and screamed.”
She questioned the official theory that stormy weather was the most likely cause of the crash. “They said visibility was poor but everything seemed alright,” she said. “I flew to Sochi on April 26 and the weather was the same.”
“The rain was not heavy in Sochi this morning,” said another passenger.
Russian investigators say the crash may have also been caused Adler ground controllers’ mistake or a malfunction of the plane. Armavia officials, however, ruled out the latter hypothesis, insisting that the plane was in an “excellent condition.”
The head of the Armenian government’s civil aviation department, Artyom Movsisian, also blamed the bad weather but was less categorical. “Totally different conclusions might emerge as a result of the investigation,” he told a news conference in Yerevan.
The investigation is reportedly overseen by Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin and Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. The latter flew to the scene of the disaster after an early-morning emergency meeting of President Robert Kocharian and other senior Armenian officials.
Russian television showed footage of small boats returning to shore with debris that they had picked up from the crash scene. Rescuers in diving gear were shown preparing themselves to enter the water to conduct searches. Others were shown hauling in one body as well as fragments of the Airbus A320 aircraft. With the remains of the aircraft submerged in more than 400 meters (1,300 feet) of water, there was still no sign of the black box flight recorder.
(GI-Photolur photo: Rescue workers carry in the Sochi port docks the life raft of the Armavia airline Airbus A320 plane that crashed on Wednesday.)