By Atom Markarian and Ruzanna StepanianArmenia began on Friday a two-day period of national mourning for the 113 people killed in the Armenian plane crash off the Russian Black Sea coast, with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian promising an “objective” conclusion about the still mysterious disaster.
Flags were flown at half-mast on public buildings across the country and radio and television stations mainly aired somber music in memory of the dead. Friday was also an official day of morning in Russia.
Markarian assured the public that Russian and Armenian investigators as well as specialists from the Franco-German Airbus group are doing their best to clear up all circumstances of the crash. “We all want to find out its causes,” he said. “That includes the French side which is interested in demonstrating good things about their aircraft.”
“There will be an objective evaluation, rather than a subjective evaluation by a single country,” he added, effectively dismissing speculation that the Russian authorities might cover up their traffic controllers’ alleged responsibility for the disaster.
The speculation was stoked by the Georgian aviation authorities’ claims that they told the crew of the Armavia plane to turn back and return to Yerevan because of bad weather shortly before it crashed. They say the Armenian pilots decided continue the one-hour flight to Sochi after receiving diametrically opposite instructions from Russian air navigation services.
Markarian thanked the Georgian authorities for providing the audio of their radio communication with the crew, saying that it will be carefully examined by the investigators. He at the same time urged reporters not to draw any conclusions for the moment. “Let’s wait for the specialists’ conclusions. Especially now that the plane’s black boxes have been located,” he said.
Meanwhile, the first 26 bodies of the victims, recovered from the Black Sea by Russian search and rescue teams, were flown to Yerevan on a special flight from Sochi in the early hours of Friday. By early afternoon, seventeen of them were identified by and handed over to their relatives at one of the city’s morgues. Some of the corpses were said to be dismembered, adding to the horror of the people who came to collect their loved ones.
Arsen Nikoghosian did not rush to take home the body of his wife, flight attendant Lusine Gevorgian, after enduring the traumatizing procedure. “I just can’t see her parents and our 8-year-old daughter now,” Nikoghosian said, unable to contain tears. “I don’t know how to tell her about our loss. This disaster has killed all of us.”
Also identified was Lusine Badalian, an 8-year-old girl who was said to have flown to Sochi with her parents. Their bodies have still not be recovered from the crash site.
Anahit Khachatrian, a middle-aged woman, also boarded the plane with her husband. “They had two sons living in Sochi,” her grieving cousin, Anahit Avetisian, explained as she stood outside the morgue. “So they decided to move there.”
“They said on TV that her body has also been transported to Yerevan, but I am told she is not here,” she said, expressing hope that Khachatrian will be among six other victims who were due to be flown from Sochi late in the evening.
(The pictures of deceased crew members put on display at the Armavia offices in Yerevan.)