AIRE EGOZI / TEL AVIV & PAUL DUFFY / MOSCOW
Claims that a missile brought down the Sibir (Siberian) Airlines Tupolev Tu-154M over the Black Sea on 4 October still remained unproven as Flight International went to press. Evidence from the wreckage found so far is insufficient to support a sabotage theory. This comes as airlines try to win back passenger confidence.
The 10-year-old aircraft took off from Tel Aviv, Israel at 09:58, heading for Novosibirsk, Russia, and contact was lost as it was cruising at 36,000ft (11,000m) over the Black Sea. It crashed into the sea 180km (97nm) from the port of Soci on the Russian coast, killing all 66 passengers and 12 crew. An Armenian Airlines pilot reported that an aircraft near his own had exploded in a "ball of fire".
The US Defense Department, monitoring data from a defence support programme (DSP) satellite, was the first to claim that it had tracked a missile closing on the Tu-154. DSP satellites carry infra-red sensors that can track targets producing jet or rocket efflux. The missile, says the Pentagon, was launched from a Ukraine battery during an exercise. A Ukrainian navy official confirmed the US report, but the Ukraine defence minister has since denied a missile was to blame.
Ukraine confirmed there was an exercise on the Crimean peninsular, but said that all missile hits are recorded. The Ukrainians also claim that if the aircraft was following its flight plan route it would have been out of missile range.