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Russia Investigates Passenger Jet Crash - 2001-10-04

A Russian airliner en route from Tel Aviv to Siberia has crashed into the Black Sea with 66 passengers and 12 crew on board. Russian officials are investigating the possibility that an explosion, or even a surface to air missile, may have brought down the aircraft.

Siberia Airlines flight 1812 from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk went down in the Black Sea some 185 kilometers southwest of the town of Sochi.

Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, are saying they cannot rule out the possibility that the crash was the result of a terrorist act. Mr. Putin named Vladimir Rushailo, the man who heads the presidential Security Council, as chief of the investigation into the crash.

Russian security officials say they first learned that the plane had gone down from Armenia.

The captain of an Armenian Airlines plane in the area reported to air traffic control that he saw an aircraft explode, then fall into the sea.

Bush Administration officials are reported to have contacted the Kremlin to see if there might be some connection between reports of an explosion and the terrorist attacks on America.

Flight 1812 is a regular weekly charter that flies from Novosibirsk to Tel Aviv on Wednesday night then makes the return trip the following day. As the only service between Israel and Siberia it is very popular among Russian Jews who have immigrated to Israel.

Israeli authorities suspended all flights from Ben Gurion airport while they investigate the possibility that the crash was the result of sabotage.

Rescue operations were launched almost immediately, but the effort could be hampered by the fact that the sea at the crash site is some 1,000 meters deep.