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Weather blamed for Black Sea crash

Passenger jet crashes into sea, killing 113

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Stormy weather is the most likely cause of a jet crash off the coast of Russia in which 113 people died, according to airline and Russian emergency officials.

The Airbus A-320, belonging to the Armenian airline Armavia, disappeared from radar screens as it approached the Black Sea resort of Sochi in heavy wind and rain early on Wednesday.

Russian officials said the 105 passengers and eight crew members aboard the plane flying from the Armenian capital Yerevan, including six children, were all killed.

Airline officials said they believed the crash was caused by stormy weather, and Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said weather was considered the likeliest cause.

He said that the clouds were as low as 100 meters (330 feet) at the time of the crash. A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's office, Natalia Vishnyakova, said there was no indication of terrorism.

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

"We were planning to get married and then this tragedy happened," he told The Associated Press.

Samvel Oganesian told AP his 23-year-old son Vram and his friend Hamlet Abgarian had been heading to Sochi for vacation. "Why did he go?" Oganesian asked repeatedly in anguish.

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, AP reported.

Wreckage was found not far from the shoreline, and Sergei Kudinov, the head of the emergency ministry's southern office, said the fuselage was found at a depth of 400 meters (1,300 feet).

Search and rescue teams had pulled 46 bodies from the water by mid-afternoon, emergency officials said; none was wearing a life jacket, indicating they did not have time to prepare for an emergency landing.

Armavia said 26 Russians, one Ukrainian and one Georgian were among the passengers. The rest were Armenian citizens. Interfax cited Armenian civil aviation spokesman Gayane Davtian as saying no Georgians or Ukrainians were aboard, according to AP.

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

Plane's pilots told to circle

Officials said the plane went down at about 2.15 a.m. on Wednesday morning while trying to make a repeat attempt at an emergency landing, but the Interfax news agency quoted the Russian air control agency as saying that the plane's crew had not declared any emergency.

Twenty-five boats, many carrying divers, were involved in the search, and a deep-sea robot was to be used to try to recover the plane's recorders, the emergency ministry said.

But Rudolf Teymurazov of Russia's Intergovernmental Aviation Committee, expressed doubt the recorders could be found because water at the crash site is as deep as 2 kilometers (1.2 miles.)

Andrei Agadzhanov, Armavia's deputy commercial director, said the crew had communicated with Sochi ground controllers while the plane was flying over the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

The ground controllers reported stormy weather but told the crew the plane could still land, he said.

Just before the landing, however, the ground controllers told the plane's pilots to circle again before approaching the airport. Then the plane crashed.

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

Rough seas, driving rain and low visibility were hampering the search, Russian news agencies reported. A deep-sea robot was to be used to try to recover the plane's black box.

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

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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