The Mysterious TU-154 Crash
"[The FSB has found] no indications or facts pointing at the possibility of a terror attack or act of sabotage on board the [Russian Defence Ministry Tu-154] plane."
Federal Security Service report
"Possible malfunctions . . . certainly wouldn't have prevented the crew from reporting them."
"[An] external impact [seemed, in his experience, the most likely reason for the disintegration of the Syria-bound plane on take-off from Sochi airport."
Vitaly Andreyev, (former) senior Russian air traffic controller
If security and counter-terrorism states with assurance that terrorism can be checked off the list of possible reasons why 92 people lost their lives on Monday, yet suspicion has been aroused that none of the flight crew appeared to have noticed anything awry, technical or otherwise which the retrieved black box validates, and the wreckage was spewed from the air over a wide distance, it is little wonder that belief in that authoritative conclusion is suspended.
But the Kremlin has stated unequivocally that it is more likely that a technical malfunction or pilot error led to the crash and subsequent deaths that have devastated Russia. The famed Alexandrov Ensemble en route to entertain a Syrian-located Russian air base has lost one-third of its talented and internationally recognized troupe. Elite members of the Russian military, the air crew, and a Russian doctor renowned for her humanitarian work, all gone, leaving Russia the poorer for their untimely deaths.
No efforts have been spared to retrieve the bodies of the dead, intact or in parts, with 3,500 people deployed on 43 ships and 182 divers sweeping the crash site for any vestiges of the victims' bodies and the plane's debris. One of the plane's black boxes has been retrieved in shape sufficient to offer some clues as to what had occurred to produce this disaster. Despite the Kremlin's assurances that they know best, experts in aviation however, remain unconvinced.
It has been pointed out that the Kremlin has no wish for the Russian public to believe that their country has become a target of terrorists who feel entitled to bomb them just as Russian warplanes are bombing rebel militias, Syrian citizens and terrorist groups alike in Syria, in conjunction with the barrel-bomb-dropping Syrian helicopters where the regime has been deliberately targeting its own people. But Islamist jihadists who exist under cover in Russia could very well be sympathetic to their counterparts in Syria, and to exercise their option to demonstrate that sympathy.
After all, it is no secret that Chechen jihadists, among other international terrorists have been operating in Syria, although it is not necessarily the terrorists that Syria and Russia have held in their gun sights, but the rebel opposition in Syria eager to dislodge Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the new Butcher of the Middle East. To admit that a terrorist attack on a Russian military transport caused the catastrophic explosion would be to draw the Russian public's attention more closely to the deployment of thousands of Russian soldiers in Syria.
Their government, after all, has been describing its actions in Syria as a noble enterprise, countering the evil of Islamist atrocities against defenceless civilians, at the very time when the Russian military has been busy itself committing what even the haplessly dysfunctional United Nations has declared to be "war crimes". Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov appears to favour the theory of pilot error resulting in the crash, although technical fault would also be acceptable.
Who knows what the black box will be revealing ... or how it will be interpreted?
Tupolev-154: Russian workhorse : AFP
Annoyingly no doubt, some in the Russian media point out lax security prevailing at Chkalovsky where the aging plane had been based, unlike the stricter security at civilian airports. To add to the doubts, former chief of the FSB special forces unit, Alexander Gusak, spoke of security breaches at the military airport. But even the much more secure Sochi airport could be vulnerable, he added: "It's possible to penetrate any facility.
"It depends on your skills."