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Friday, 5 October, 2001, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Relatives' agony over Russian crash
A victim's relative weeps at Ben Gurion airport
Relatives have been shown a passenger list
Relatives of the victims of the Russian airliner that crashed into the Black Sea have been trying to come to terms with their grief.

Most of the passengers on the charter flight were Israeli citizens of Russian origin on their way from Tel Aviv to visit relatives in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

My father had been living in Israel for three years - he was supposed to come from Tel Aviv today

Passenger's son
About 15 of those on board were said to be Russian citizens. Two of the passengers were babies.

There were emotional scenes at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, where distraught relatives brushed past reporters, heading straight for the passenger list to search for the names of missing loved ones.

Counsellors were on hand to offer support. Many of the bereaved gathered together, trying to comprehend their loss. Others passed on the news in phone conversations punctuated by sobs.

Similar scenes were played out at the Novosibirsk end.

One man said he had been expecting to meet his father off the flight.

The plane fell into the sea, and there was another explosion in the sea

Eye witness
"I was listening to the radio and found out that the plane had crashed," he said.

"My father had been living in Israel for three years - we visited him last year and decided to invite him here. He was supposed to come from Tel Aviv today."

Distress calls

Eye witness Garik Ovanisian, the pilot of an Armenian An-24 who was flying near the stricken aircraft, said he saw the Sibir Airlines jet explode.

"I saw the explosion on the plane, which was above me at an altitude of 11,000 metres (36,300 feet)," Mr Ovanisian told The Associated Press.

"The plane fell into the sea, and there was another explosion in the sea. After that I saw a big white spot on the sea and I had the impression that oil was burning."

Airline officials told reporters that no distress calls had been received.

But an officer at the Coastal Radio Service in Romania said he heard the doomed jet's pleas for help.

Duty officer Traian Niculescu, stationed in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta, told Romanian television that he had received "a distress call... simply saying 'Mayday, Mayday' without any identification".

He then heard conversation in Russian.

The BBC's Orla Guerin in Tel Aviv
"A surface-to-air missile may have been fired and may have struck the plane"
The BBC's Jonathan Charles
reports on an eye witness account
See also:

05 Jul 01 | Europe
Russia mourns plane crash victims
04 Jul 01 | Europe
How safe is the Tu-154?
03 Jul 01 | Europe
Russia's shaky air safety record
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