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Breaking News

Russian Passenger Jet Crashes Into Black Sea

Aired October 04, 2001 - 08:02   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with some breaking news from overseas. A Russian passenger jet, a Tupolev 154, much like a Boeing 727, has apparently crashed into the Black Sea. It happened about two-and-a-half hours ago.

The plane was headed from Israel, Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk, Siberia, when it went down; sixty-six passengers, 11 crew members aboard.

CNN's Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty has the latest for us from there -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Miles, we're getting some different figures now on how many passengers were aboard. The latest figure coming from the deputy transport minister here in Russia is that there were 64 passengers and 12 crew. The minister also said that there were two children aboard.

And as you reported, the plane was coming from Tel Aviv on its way to Siberia -- Novosibirsk in Siberia, when it crashed into the Black Sea.

Now, there are reports coming from Interfax News Agency, as yet unconfirmed by the emergency ministry, that a neighboring pilot in a plane nearby saw this passenger liner explode and then crash into the Black Sea. The FSB, which is the Russian equivalent of the FBI, the former KGB, is saying simply it does not exclude the possibility of terrorism.

President Putin immediately has launched an investigation. A helicopter and a plane are on their way to the scene. And of course, the context of this, Miles, is in a very heightened state of alert about terrorism and the fear here in Russian that there might be some type of retaliation for Russia's participation in that international coalition against terrorism. Obviously, that's the first thing that is springing to anyone's mind.

It is not confirmed by any means. This is very early. The plane crash happened approximately two hours and 20 minutes ago -- very early on. But as soon as we have anymore information, we will be back to you -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jill, without getting down the road here into speculation, it's worth pointing out the fact that this flight originated in the Middle East in Tel Aviv. That must have investigators thinking in a certain way here.

DOUGHERTY: Right. And I think it's significant that this was not an El-Al or an Israeli flight. It was a Russian flight -- Siberia Airlines -- Siberian Airlines. And one can only speculate about security at this point, but many of these spin off companies that were spun off from the old Aeroflot are smaller airlines. It is unclear now what security was getting onto that plane.

And also I should add there are some reports, also unconfirmed but coming from Interfax, that this plane made a stopover in Bulgaria on its way. We have not had any confirmation of that, but again, the security issue, the Middle East, all of the context of that has to be taken into consideration.

O'BRIEN: Jill, I know this is just unfolding. Do we know if that stop in Bulgaria was a scheduled stop or not?

DOUGHERTY: Well, as yet again, it's not even confirmed that it happened. There are several reports to that effect. But apparently if it was, it was a scheduled stop. But again, no confirmation on that particular point.

O'BRIEN: All right. An unfolding story -- CNN's Jill Dougherty is tracking it for us. A Siberian airliner, a Tupolev 154 -- the current passenger count, according to Jill, 64 passengers, 12 crew members -- crashing into the Black Sea about two-and-a-half hours ago. Tel Aviv to Siberia was the intended route on that. We are watching it, and we will keep you posted -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And right now, we go to Jerusalem with more reaction from CNN's Mike Hanna -- good morning, Mike.

I'm not sure how much of Jill's report you heard, but she's saying Russian officials are not ruling out the specter of terrorism at this point. That there are fears that something like this could have happened as a result of retaliation for Russia's involvement in some kind of -- you know, in this international coalition that President Bush is building.

Any reaction there from Israeli officials?

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, all of this the motives, the cause of the accident, pure speculation that we cannot confirm any elements of that speculation.

What we do know at this particular point, according to figures received from the Tel Aviv airport within the last few minutes, they say that 66 passengers were on board the Siberian Airways flight on its way, as we heard, to Siberia from the Tel Aviv airport.

Now this, according to an airport spokesman, is a regular weekly charter flight. There are a large amount of residents of the former Soviet Union who now live in Israel and a regular movement of people between Russia and Israel itself.

What we are also told by the airport is that even though this was a charter flight, normal security operations remain in force. That means that people boarding the flight went through exactly the same procedures as those who would be boarding scheduled flights.

Now, anyone who has traveled through Ben Gurion Airport knows that these security measures are very stringent indeed, probably the most stringent of any security measures at any airport in the world. So we have the confirmation from the airport that normal security procedures were followed in Tel Aviv. And a travel agent that did charter this plane on a regular basis said initially that it had 51 reservations on this particular flight.

But as I said, we've been told by the airport itself that there were 66 passengers when the flight left Tel Aviv. All of those, according to the airport spokesperson, are all Israelis.

So that is what we have from this particular side of this unfolding story. It was a charter flight -- a regular charter flight. Normal security procedures were followed at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport -- Paula.

ZAHN: Mike, did Israeli officials have anything to add to the Interfax report that Jill just shared with us suggesting that this plane might have -- we can't confirm this -- but might have had a stopover in Bulgaria?

HANNA: Well, once again, there appears to be some confusion about this. Airport officials are saying that some kind of transit stop was planned. Now, they cannot confirm at this stage whether that transit stop was, in fact, carried out, or indeed, whether there was any transit stop at all.

Now, this is a Tupolev 154 aircraft. The range of such an aircraft would easily encompass the route from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk, which is in the region of a four to five hour flight. And once again, we did hear initial reports here on Israeli media that the plane had picked up some other passengers at a stopover, but no confirmation on this particular detail.

What we have from the airport is that there was the possibility of a transit stop on its way to Novosibirsk. Whether this stop was carried out, well, that we can't confirm at the moment, but we'll be tracing that up -- Paula.

ZAHN: Does anybody know how old this plane is?

HANNA: No, we don't. Once again, we don't have an exact age on the plane, but this make of aircraft has, as we heard -- my colleague, Jill Dougherty, saying a little bit earlier -- that is and has been the workhorse of the Russian air companies for a long period of time. The Tupolev have been in production for well over 30 years, and this particular make of aircraft is an older version. It has been in service -- this particular make, has been in service for well over 10 years.

As to this particular aircraft, though, obviously we do not know how long it's been flying. We do not know what condition it was in. All these details, hopefully, we'll hunt down.

ZAHN: Thank you, Mike -- Mike Hanna from our Jerusalem bureau this morning. We, of course, will bring you any new details on this as they become available to us.