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Friday, 5 October, 2001, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Ukraine missile may have hit plane
A box containing bodies is hoisted onto a ship
Salvage teams have found some of the bodies
Ukraine's Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh has admitted that he cannot rule out the possibility that a Ukrainian missile shot down a Russian passenger jet over the Black Sea.

The country's defence ministry has denied its forces accidentally brought down the plane in a military exercise but Mr Kinakh, cited by the Interfax news agency, said the theory "had the right to exist".

His concession came as the United States said it had seen no evidence that the crash occurred as a result of terrorism, having suggested shortly after the disaster that a Ukrainian missile was responsible.

Relatives at Ben Gurion airport
Distraught relatives await news
But Russian prosecutors have already launched a criminal inquiry into why the plane exploded, killing at least 76 people.

President Vladimir Putin, who has been edging closer to the West following the suicide attacks on the US, had suggested that the Russian flight might also have been targeted by terrorists.

Salvage workers have located the cockpit of the Russian Tu-154 airliner and are trying to lift it from the water.

Several other parts of the plane are being examined by investigators.

Three possible causes:

  • Missile strike - Ukrainian defence forces were carrying out exercises nearby involving firing surface-to-air missiles and a missile launch was picked up by satellite equipment with infrared sensors at the US Defence Department's early warning centre at Fort Meade.

  • Terrorism - an Armenian pilot flying nearby reported seeing an explosion on board before it fell into the sea and there are reports of bullet-like holes in recovered wreckage.

  • Malfunction - Russian airlines have a poorer safety record their Western counterparts, with the Tu-154 being involved in a number of crashes because of mechanical failure and human error.

The plane was flying from Tel Aviv in Israel to the Russian city of Novosibirsk, carrying 64 passengers, mainly Israelis of Russian origin, and 12 crew, when it apparently exploded in mid-air.

14 bodies have so far been recovered from the crash site, 190km (115 miles) south of the Russian city of Sochi.

Crash locator map
Ukrainian forces were carrying out exercises involving firing surface-to-air missiles at unmanned aircraft at Cape Opuk, in Crimea, about 250km (160 miles) from the site of the crash.

They said that all missiles had been accounted for and that the exercises had only begun an hour-and-a-half after the plane crashed.

However, according to one US defence official, a satellite detected "the launch of a missile at almost precisely the same time the airliner went down."

On Friday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer also cast doubt on suspicions that the disaster was the result of a terrorist attack.

"At this time, we haven't seen anything that would indicate that a terrorist attack had occurred," he said.

The Israel Airport Authority has insisted the plane went through the same stringent security checks that are carried out on all planes travelling to or from the country.

'Bullet holes'

But according to reports from Moscow news agencies, several holes resembling those made by bullets have been discovered in parts of the wreckage recovered from the crash site.

Separately, Itar-Tass has reported that possible bullet holes were also discovered in a door of the passenger jet.

However, Russian officials have said that reports that they are bullet holes are "pure speculation" and that no conclusion can be reached until a formal investigation is completed.

"It is up to specialists to draw the final conclusion," said deputy rescue work chief Nikolai Burkov.

Vladimir Rushailo, secretary of Russia's Security Council, arrived in Sochi late on Thursday with experts from the FSB domestic security service to lead the investigation.

An emergency ministry spokesman in Moscow said 11 ships were involved in search operations at the crash area.

The BBC's James Rogers
"Russia has appealed for international help in its investigation"
Volodymyr Vassylenko, Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK
denies the plane was brought down during military exercises
See also:

05 Oct 01 | Europe
Press split over Black Sea crash
05 Oct 01 | Europe
How safe is the Tu-154?
05 Oct 01 | Europe
Russia's shaky air safety record
05 Oct 01 | World Cup 2002
Fifa calls off Israel match
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