A Russian military official said Thursday there was no explosion on board the plane that crashed Sunday in the Black Sea, killing all 92 people on board.
Lt. Gen. Sergei Bainetov, who is leading the military commission investigating the crash, said that conclusion from analysis of the plane’s flight data recorders does not yet rule out the possibility of terrorism as a cause.
Investigators are also looking at the possibility bad fuel, pilot error or mechanical failure were at fault.
The plane was on its way from Sochi to Syria, and was carrying members of a military ensemble that was due to perform a New Year’s concert for Russian soldiers at a base near Latakia.
Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said search crews and divers have finished the main phase of recovering pieces of the plane from the water.He also said so far 19 bodies and more than 200 body parts have been found.
The military passenger plane crashed early Sunday, two minutes after takeoff in good weather from the city of Sochi. It was carrying 68 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, a famous military choir, orchestra and dance group that was to give a New Year's performance for Russian airmen at the military base near Latakia.
Russian reports, unconfirmed by the Defense Ministry, said the crash might have been caused by a malfunction in a set of flaps that guide the plane through takeoff and landing. The Life.ru website issued what it said was a transcript of a black box recording, citing an unnamed source among officials in charge of the search.
The transcript, which has not been verified by the Russian government, says the pilots shouted something about the flaps and warned the plane was falling just before the recording ended abruptly.
Also Wednesday, the Defense Ministry condemned the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo for publishing cartoons making fun of the crash. Charlie Hebdo has been targeted by at least two terrorist attacks, in 2011 and 2015, presumably in connection with material it published.
Effect of Syrian intervention
While Russian officials downplay the possibility of a terrorist attack, there are concerns that Russia's intervention in Syria has made it more of a target for extremists.
Russia's ambassador to Turkey was assassinated December 20 in Ankara by a police officer apparently motivated by the Russia-backed assault on Aleppo by Syrian forces.
Russia has defended its backing of Syrian forces as a fight against terrorism, while critics say rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were the main target.