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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
'Missile traces' in plane wreckage
Recovered debris
Each fragment of wreckage is being examined
Crash investigators trying to find out what sent a Russian airliner plunging into the Black Sea last week have found fresh evidence that a Ukrainian missile was to blame.

A member of the Russian inquiry team said fragments had been found in the plane wreckage which were "very similar" to parts of an S-200 missile - the type being test-fired by Ukraine at the time.


A great number of metallic parts were found which are very similar to parts of the S-200 rocket

Russian investigator Yevgeny Shaposhnikov
The US has said there is "every indication" a stray missile downed the plane during the Ukrainian firing exercise, but Ukraine has repeatedly rejected the allegation.

The Tu-154 plane came down about 250km (156 miles) from land with the loss of all 78 crew and passengers. It was on a flight from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk in Siberia.

Investigation sources quoted by the Interfax news agency had already said that holes in the wreckage were consistent with an S-200 strike. The missile is designed to fragment just short of its target, blasting the object with shrapnel.

Fragments

On Tuesday, investigators confirmed at a news conference that missile fragments, as well as circumstantial evidence, had been found.

Head of Sibir points to bullet holes in the wreckage
Investigators say holes in wreckage are consistent with missile damage
"A great number of metallic parts were found which are very similar to parts of the S-200 rocket," said Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, a member of the investigating commission.

"We have found a lot of material which allows us to expect that in time the 'missile' theory will become dominant in the investigation of the crash of the Tu-154 plane."

A second official said that technical equipment had picked up an unidentified object flying towards the scene of the explosion.


The plane could not be caught by an illuminating ray, nor could a missile have been aimed at it

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk
The disclosures come a day after the Ukrainians confirmed that one of their test-fired missiles - also an S-200 - had travelled 80km (50 miles) from its launch site, and came down in the Black Sea.

Officials had earlier insisted the missile travelled only 40km (25 miles).

But they still insist that the missile fell well short of the crash site, and would not have had the capability of travelling that far.

'Technical impossibility'

Ukraine's President, Leonid Kuchma, said it was "technically an impossibility" that a Ukrainian missile had caused the crash.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk again denied on Tuesday the missile was to blame.

He said an S-200 was fired 10 minutes before the plane would have crossed its trajectory.

Victims' relatives
Distraught relatives want answers to the tragedy
"In other words, the plane could not be caught by an illuminating ray, nor could a missile have been aimed at it," Mr Kuzmuk told the Ukrainian parliament.

He said the missile had fallen into the sea two minutes before the plane disappeared from the radar, and that the distance between the plane and the launch site was about 270km (168 miles) - further than the missile's range.

Disaster theories

However, other military sources believe the missile could have reached the plane in the upper limit of its range.

Early in the inquiry, Russian investigators and President Vladimir Putin said they believed a terrorist attack was the most likely explanation for the loss of the plane.

That would have have meant a major breach of security at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, which is among the toughest in the world.

Attention was also focused on possible mechanical failure of the Tu-154, which is the backbone of Russian air fleets.

See also:

08 Oct 01 | Europe
Ukraine: Missile strayed 80km
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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