By Karine Kalantarian
A group of Armenian prosecutors were due to fly to Russia late Wednesday to join in the ongoing criminal investigation into the May 3 crash of an Armenian passenger jet near the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi.
A spokesman for the Armenian Prosecutor-General’s Office, Gurgen Ambarian, told RFE/RL that the investigators will work with their Russian colleagues to try to identify the causes of the worst air disaster in Armenia’s history. They plan to stay in Sochi for at least two weeks, he said.
Armenian and Russian prosecutors opened separate criminal cases immediately after the Airbus A320 of the Armavia airline plunged into the Black Sea in still uncertain circumstances, killing all 113 people on board. Officials in both countries initially suggested that bad weather was primarily to blame for the crash.
There have also been other unconfirmed theories of the crash. One of them has to do with allegedly contradictory instructions issued to the A230 crew by Russian traffic controllers. According to Armavia officials, they initially told the plane to turn back because of torrential rain, but later changed their minds and gave it permission to land. They say the pilots already began flying back to Yerevan when they were told by the Russians that heavy rains cleared.
For their part, Georgian controllers have said that they warned the plane against landing at Sochi’s Adler airport mid-way through the fatal flight. Armenian investigators visited Tbilisi last week to take the voice recordings of their radio communication with the crew.
Ambarian said the audio was examined in Yerevan but did not provide definitive answers to the lingering questions about the disaster. He also said that Georgian controllers have agreed to travel to Sochi and give testimony to the Russian and Armenian investigators.
The inquiry is seriously hampered by Russian search and rescue teams’ failure so far to retrieve the plane’s flight recorders from the Black Sea. The so-called black boxes are reportedly lying on the seabed at a depth of at least 450 meters (1,480 feet). Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin said on Sunday that Moscow lacks the sophisticated equipment to recover them and will ask France for specialist assistance.
In January 2004, a French Scorpio robot recovered the two black boxes of a Flash Airlines Boeing that crashed off the Egyptian resort from a depth of more 1,000 meters