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A worker lowers the Russian national flag to half-mast on a roof of the city administration building, as the country observes a day of mourning for victims of the Tu-154 plane which crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, December 26, 2016. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Russia mourns 92 killed in Black Sea jet crash hunts for black box

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia held a national day of mourning on Monday, a day after a Syria-bound military plane crashed into the Black Sea killing all 92 people on board, and expanded a search operation to try to recover passengers’ bodies and the jet’s black box.

The plane, a Russian Defence Ministry TU-154, was carrying  dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members to Syria where they were meant to entertain Russian troops in the run-up to the New Year.

Candles in memory of passengers and crew members of Russian military Tu-154 plane, which crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, are pictured next to a picture of a plane at an embankment in the resort city of Sochi, Russia December 25, 2016.  REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Candles in memory of passengers and crew members of Russian military Tu-154 plane, which crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, are pictured next to a picture of a plane at an embankment in the resort city of Sochi, Russia December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Nine Russian reporters were also on board as well as military servicemen and Elizaveta Glinka, a prominent member of President Vladimir Putin’s advisory human rights council.

Flags were flown at half-mast on Monday, mourners placed flowers at the airport in Sochi, southern Russia, where the plane took off from, and in front of the Moscow headquarters of the Russian Army’s Alexandrov song and dance troupe.

Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov told reporters on Monday that pilot error or a technical fault were the most likely explanations for the tragedy.

“The main versions (for the crash) do not include the idea of a terrorist act,” Sokolov told a news conference in Sochi, the RIA news agency reported.

“So we are working on the assumption that the reasons for the catastrophe could have been technical or a pilot error.”

A priest looks at flowers placed in front of pictures of Tu-154 plane and head of 'Fair Aid' fund Elizaveta Glinka, to commemorate passengers and crew members of Russian military plane, which crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, at the Sochi International Airport (Sochi-Adler Airport) in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russia, December 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

A priest looks at flowers placed in front of pictures of Tu-154 plane and head of ‘Fair Aid’ fund Elizaveta Glinka, to commemorate passengers and crew members of Russian military plane, which crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria on Sunday, at the Sochi International Airport (Sochi-Adler Airport) in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russia, December 26, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The jet, a Soviet-era Tupolev plane built in 1983, had been carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a Defence Ministry spokesman, said on Monday that 11 bodies had been recovered so far and that a huge sea and air search operation involving around 3,500 people was being expanded.

Thirty nine ships, five helicopters, a drone, and more than 100 divers were involved, he said, and soldiers were scouring the Black Sea coastline as well.

A woman lays flowers in memory of passengers and crew members of Russian military Tu-154 plane, which crashed into the Black Sea, at the Russian embassy in Minsk, Belarus December 25, 2016.  REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

A woman lays flowers in memory of passengers and crew members of Russian military Tu-154 plane, which crashed into the Black Sea, at the Russian embassy in Minsk, Belarus December 25, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

 (Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrey Ostroukh)

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