Mike Eckel

AP Worldstream
May 03, 2006

Divers searched storm-churned waters off Russia's Black Sea coast
Wednesday, searching for the remains of 113 people who were killed
when an Armenian passenger airliner crashed in rough weather as it
was heading for a landing, emergency officials said.

It was the worst air disaster in Armenia's recent history.

Armenian airline officials said they believed the crash was due to the
stormy weather, and Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman
Viktor Beltsov said that this was considered the likeliest cause. He
said that the clouds were as low as 100 meters (330 feet) above the
ground at the time of the crash.

Earlier, Russian officials said that the age of the aircraft and
technical factors could have been involved. Investigators did not
believe terrorism was a factor.

The Airbus A-320, which belonged to the Armenian airline Armavia,
disappeared from radar screens just under 6 kilometers (3.7 miles)
from the shore and crashed after making a turn and heading toward the
Adler airport near the Russian resort of Sochi, Beltsov said. Rescue
officials in the ministry's southern regional branch said the 105
passengers and eight crew members aboard the plane flying from the
Armenian capital Yerevan, including six children, were all killed.

Gurgen Seroboyan, whose 23-year-old fiancee Lucenie Gevorkian was a
flight attendant on the flight, wept as he waited at Yerevan airport
for a charter flight that was to take relatives of the crash victims
to Sochi.

Samvel Oganesian said his 23-year-old son Vram and his friend Hamlet
Abgarian had been heading to Sochi for vacation.

"Why did he go?" Oganesian asked in anguish, over and over again.

In Sochi's airport, about 100 tearful relatives _ nearly all
Armenians _ kept up an anguished vigil in a waiting hall. One man
became hysterical and had to be taken away by ambulance.

Women, sobbing, held handkerchiefs to their mouths, while men sat
silently, their heads in their hands.

Aram Sargasian, 22, said he had two uncles on the ill-fated plane
who had been heading to Sochi for a weeklong vacation. The city has
a large ethnic Armenian population.

"I adored them. This is all like a dream," he said, shaking his head.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian President Robert
Kocharian declared Friday a day of mourning in both countries, the
Kremlin said.

Wreckage from the plane was found not far from the shoreline, Beltsov
said, and Sergei Kudinov, the head of the southern district office
of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said the fuselage was found at
a depth of 400 meters (1,300 feet).

Search and rescue teams have pulled 33 bodies from the water,
regional emergency officials said; none was wearing a life jacket,
indicating they did not have sufficient warning to prepare for an
emergency landing.

The airline said that 26 Russians, one Ukrainian and one Georgian
were among the passengers. The rest were Armenian citizens.

Twenty-five boats as well as divers were involved in the search,
and a deep-sea robot was to be used to try to recover the plane's
black box, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. But a Russian
aviation official, Rudolf Teymurazov of the Intergovernmental Aviation
Committee, expressed doubt the black boxes could be found since some
parts of the plane could be as deep as 2 kilometers (1 mile).

"If the black boxes are located not in some segment of the plane,
but on the (sea) bottom, then it will be impossible to find them,"
the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.

The water temperature was 12 degrees Celsius (53 F).

The plane broke up on impact with the water and passengers' personal
belongings and plane fragments were found scattered over an area
spreading 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from the crash site.

Rough seas, driving rain and low visibility were hampering the search,
Russian news agencies reported.

Beltsov said the plane, which disappeared from radar screens at about
2:15 a.m. (2215 GMT Tuesday, went down while trying to make a repeat
attempt at an emergency landing. However, the Interfax news agency
quoted the Russian air control agency as saying that the plane's crew
had not declared any emergency.

Armavia deputy commercial director Andrei Agadzhanov said in Yerevan
that the crew had communicated with Sochi ground controllers while
the plane was flying over the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The ground
controllers said the weather was poor but the plane could still land,
the representative said. Just before the landing, however, the ground
controllers told the crew to make another circle in the air before
approaching the airport.

He said the crew was highly experienced, the airplane was in good
condition and that weather conditions were "certainly" the cause.

The Airbus A-320 was manufactured in 1995 and had been acquired on
leasing by the airline. The aircraft underwent full-scale servicing
a year ago.

Agadzhanov said that the airline's deputy general director, Vyacheslav
Yaralov, had been aboard.

Investigators from the airline and Armenian and French aviation
authorities were to fly to the crash scene later Wednesday morning.

Armavia is Armenia's largest airline. It is 70-percent owned by
Russia's second-largest airline Sibir, and it acquired routes from
Armenian Airlines and Armenian International Airlines when those
operations fell into financial troubles.


AP reporters Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, and Sergei Venyavsky
in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, contributed to this story.