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'No evidence of explosion' in Russian military plane crash

Analysis of a crashed Russian military plane's flight recorders has shown there was no explosion on board, officials said.

Lt Gen Sergei Bainetov stopped short of ruling out a terror attack as an explanation for Sunday's crash in the Black Sea, which killed at 92 people on board a Tu-154 aircraft, saying that "we aren't rejecting that version (of events) yet".

Lt Gen Bainetov, who heads the military commission investigating the incident, said a terror attack may not necessarily involve an explosion and that several factors might have contributed to the crash.

He added that flights of the military's Tu-154s have been suspended pending the investigation, but said they will likely resume after the probe is over.

Lt Gen Bainetov said a cockpit conversation recorder which picked up the captain's words indicated a "special situation" began unfolding on board the plane.

The Tu-154 of the Russian defence ministry crashed into the sea early on Sunday, moments after taking off in good weather from the city of Sochi.

It was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, widely known as the Red Army Choir, to a New Year's concert at a Russian military base in Syria.

Lt Gen Bainetov said the plane crashed 70 seconds after take-off from an altitude of 820ft while it was travelling at a speed of 224-230 miles per hour.

He added: "A terror attack doesn't always involve an explosion. Along with an explosion on board, there could have been some mechanical impact."

Lt Gen Bainetov's words appeared to contradict a previous statement from Russia's top domestic security and counter-terrorism agency, the FSB, which has said it found "no indications or facts pointing at the possibility of a terror attack or an act of sabotage".

It said investigators are looking into whether the crash might have been caused by bad fuel, pilot error, equipment failure or objects stuck in the engines.

Investigators have taken samples from a fuel tank used to fill the plane, which flew from Moscow's Chkalovsky military airport and stopped in Sochi for refuelling.

In an apparent attempt to downplay Lt Gen Bainetov's statement, Russian transport minister Maxim Sokolov emphasised that "the version of a terror attack isn't being considered as the main version".

Mr Sokolov said search teams have completed the bulk of efforts to recover bodies and debris from the crash site.

He said 19 bodies and more than 230 body fragments have been recovered, adding that 13 big fragments of the plane and about 2,000 smaller fragments have also been pulled from the seabed.

The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s.

Russian airlines decommissioned the noisy, fuel-guzzling aircraft years ago, but the military and other government agencies continue using the plane, which is still loved by crews for its manoeuvrability and sturdiness.

The plane that crashed on Sunday was built in 1983 and underwent factory check-ups and maintenance in 2014, and earlier this year. Investigators have taken relevant documents from the firm which carried out the job.

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