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77 die in Russian plane crash
Terrorist act: President Putin


Family members of victims of the crashed Sibir Airlines TU-154 jet arrive at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod on Thursday. óReuters photo

Moscow, October 4
In a suspected terrorist attack, a Russian airliner with at least 77 persons on board, mostly Israelis, heading from Tel Aviv to Siberia today crashed into the Black Sea after a mid-air explosion even as a Russian television channel said the aircraft may have been brought down by a missile fired during a military exercise in Ukraine.

However, a spokesman for Ukrainian Defence Minister Alexander Kuzmuk denied that its surface-to-air missile had hit the plane as the airspace in the area of air defence exercise was closed for flights and no plane had entered it, according to Tiara-Tass news agency despatch from Kiev.

The plane, a Tupolev TU-154, belonging to Sibir Airlines was headed for the Siberian city of Novosibirsk when it disappeared from the radar screens, 180 km south of the Russian Black Sea resort of Adler, Itar-Tass reported.

Four bodies have been pulled out from the sea. Russian authorities have mobilised all available resources, including military aircraft and naval vessels, to search for the possible survivors from among the passengers and 12 crew members.

Pilot of an Armenian AN-24 aircraft flying in the same area reported about an explosion on board the ill-fated plane after which its burning debris fell into the sea.

The Russian Security Service (FSB) is inclined to see the crash as a terrorist act and President Vladimir Putin has appointed National Security Council Secretary General Rushailo as the head of the investigation commission to probe into the incident, NTV channel reported.

In Israel the Civil Aviation authorities said the aircraft took off from Tel Aviv at 9.58 am (1.28 pm IST).

Israel, which has suspended all flights out of Tel Aviv airport until further notice said it was not ruling out a terrorist act in the crash.

NTV television quoted Israeli airport officials as saying that all passengers on board were Israeli citizens. But Israeli television said there were 66 passengers, of whom 51 were Israelis.

President Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke by telephone following the crash, the Kremlin press service said.

In Washington, a US official said the aircraft might have been accidentally hit by a surface-to-air missile during a Ukranian military exercise. PTI, Reuters
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