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Russia: Passenger Plane Explodes, Crashes In Black Sea

MOSCOW, 4 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's Emergency Ministry says a Russian airliner en route from Tel Aviv to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk has crashed into the Black Sea. At least 77 people were on board the Sibir Airlines Tupolev-154. An Emergency Ministry spokesman said the plane -- Flight 1812 -- had gone down 185 kilometers off the Russian coastal city of Adler.

Interfax says rescuers have begun recovering bodies from the Black Sea.

The deputy head of Armenia's Aviation Department, Arayik Abgarian, told RFE/RL that the crew of an Armenian passenger flight en route from Simferopol to Yerevan saw the Russian airliner explode in midair and crash into the sea at 1345 Moscow time. The pilot of the Armenian plane says the Russian plane exploded at an altitude of 11,000 meters and exploded again as it hit the sea.

Russian and Israeli officials say terrorism cannot be ruled out as a cause.

In the words of Israeli Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh, "It could be an accident, it could be sabotage, it could be anything. We are not excluding any possibilities." Sneh says Israel has suspended takeoffs from Tel Aviv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has named Vladimir Rushailo, head of the presidential Security Council, to head an investigation into the tragedy. Putin was scheduled to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Moscow today to discuss the fight against terrorism and Russia's relations with NATO.

A Tel Aviv airport spokeswoman said the flight was a regular direct weekly charter.