All 84 passengers and eight crew members on board the plane operated by the Russian military are believed to have died when it crashed two minutes after taking off at 5:25am local time (02:25 GMT) in good weather from the southern Russian city of Sochi.
The Russian defence ministry said it had recovered 10 bodies by late Sunday.
Transport minister Maxim Sokolov, in charge of a state probe into the crash, said on state television that investigators were looking into a “whole spectrum” of theories on the cause of the crash of the Soviet-built Tu-154 plane.
When asked if a “terror attack” could have been behind the crash, Sokolov said: “It is premature to speak of this.”
He added that the aircraft’s black boxes had yet to be found.
The plane belonging to the defence ministry was taking its famed choir, the Alexandrov Ensemble, to a New Year’s concert at Khmeimim airbase in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia. Those on board also included nine Russian journalists and a Russian doctor famous for her work in war zones.
The Alexandrov Ensemble is an official army choir of the Russian armed forces. Founded during the Soviet era, the ensemble consists of a male choir, an orchestra, and a dance ensemble.
The Ensemble has entertained audiences both in Russia and throughout the world, performing a range of music including folk tunes, hymns, operatic arias and popular music. The group’s repertoire has included The Volga Boatmen’s Song, Katyusha, Kalinka and Ave Maria.
It is named for its first director, Alexander Vasilyevich Alexandrov (1883–1946). Its formal name since 1998 has been Academic Ensemble of Song and Dance of the Russian Army named after A. V. Alexandrov.
The Alexandrov Ensemble and the MVD Ensemble are the only groups with the right to claim the title “Red Army Choir”.
On 25 December 2016, 64 members of the ensemble were killed when the Russian military aircraft on which they were travelling to perform for troops crashed into the Black Sea.
In recent years, Russian airlines have replaced their Tu-154s with more modern planes, but the military and other government agencies in Russia have continued to use them. While noisy and fuel-guzzling, the plane is popular with crews that appreciate its manoeuvrability and ruggedness.
Still, since 1994 there have been 17 major plane crashes involving the Tu-154 that have killed over 1,760 people. Most resulted from human error.