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An Armavia Airbus A320 (file photo) (epa)
Relatives have gathered in the Russian resort town of Sochi to begin the difficult task of identifying some of the 113 victims of yesterday's crash of an Armenian airliner. The Airbus A320 crashed into the Black Sea in the early morning of May 3 en route to Sochi from the Armenian capital, Yerevan, killing everyone on board. An investigation is ongoing into the crash, which appears to be the result of poor weather conditions.
PRAGUE, May 4, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry says a radio tracking signal from one of the aircraft's "black box" flight recorders has been detected on the bed of the Black Sea.
Investigators are hoping the recorder could help determine what -- beyond rain and poor visibility -- may have contributed to the crash.
The Armavia air company operating the flight says the pilot had originally turned back after being warned of poor weather by Georgian flight controllers.
But the pilot reportedly then resumed course for Sochi after being advised by air traffic controllers in Russia that conditions had improved. It was after this second turn that the plane nosedived, crashing into the Black Sea and killing all 113 passengers on board.
Gennady Shlyakhov, reporting for RFE/RL's Russian Service from Sochi, says there are no new theories about what might have caused the crash.
"There are no new explanations, and there likely won't be any until the commission [investigating the accident] here makes its conclusions," Shlyakhov said. "It seems that the final conclusions will be made when the black boxes are recovered. Only they can give exact information about the technical characteristics of the flight, which will explain why this accident took place."
The investigation is being led by Russian Transportation Minister Igor Levitin and Armenian Defense Minister Serge Sargsian.
Citing the role of its flight controllers in the incident, Georgia has also requested that its own officials participate in the investigation. Georgia's Navigation Service has reportedly handed over all its flight data to Armenian officials.
Armavia has dismissed speculation that the crash was caused by either plane malfunction or pilot error.
Prior to the Sochi crash, there had been 11 fatal A320 accidents since 1988, claiming 327 lives. However, the plane's high-technology design has raised questions about the ability of flight crews to handle it.
Grieving relatives, meanwhile, have begun the grim task of lining up outside a Sochi morgue to identify bodies and body parts that have been recovered from the site of the crash.
Most of the people on board the plane were Armenians, but there were also 26 Russian passport holders, one Ukrainian, and one Georgian. At least five of the passengers were children.
Shlyakhov says approximately 50 bodies have been recovered, and 20 of them identified.
"Unfortunately, not all the bodies survived the crash intact," Shlyakhov said. "What we have are fragments of those bodies and they are being taken to the medical examination bureau. Then they are photographed and the photographs are shown to the relatives."
Once victims are conclusively identified, they will be returned to Yerevan for burial. Shlyakhov says the first flight returning bodies for burial will depart from Sochi later today.
The governments of Russia and Armenia have declared May 5 an official day of mourning.