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Russian air crash: Relatives identify bodies

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    Sochi (Russia), May 4: Relatives began the grim task today of identifying bodies of some of the 113 passengers and crew killed when their Armenian airliner crashed into the Black Sea off Russia's coast.

    In Sochi, the Russian holiday resort near where the Airbus A-320 crashed, about 60 men waited outside the morgue. They were called in one at a time and escorted to a room where the bodies had been laid out for identification.

    Many of the corpses recovered from the water are in pieces because of the force of the impact. There were at least five children on the plane, which was mainly carrying Armenians, with 26 Russian passport holders also on board.

    About 36 hours after it vanished from radar screens as it flew to Sochi from Armenia, divers and rescue workers in boats had pulled 49 bodies from the water, officials said. Twenty of the dead had been identified.

    The search was going on for more bodies and the aircraft's ''black box'' flight recorder which should help investigators piece together the jet's last moments.

    Investigators and officials from Armavia, the airline operating the plane, said they believed torrential rain and poor visibility were factors in the crash.

    ''We are not looking at any particular explanation (for the crash) until we get a real understanding of what happened and we will get that from the black box,'' Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin told sources.

    Local authorities had turned Sochi's Moskva hotel into a makeshift reception centre for people who arrived in the town hoping to recover their relatives' bodies.

    ''The pathologists have started work. Photographs showing body parts have been taken to the Moskva hotel,'' local government official Natala Fomenko told sources.

    ''People can look at them and if there are grounds for doing so they can then be escorted to the morgue.'' The jet crashed into the sea about six km (four miles) from the coast. A special submersible was despatched to Sochi to help retrieve some of the debris which, rescuers say, has sunk to the seabed about 500 metres down.

    For a second day, passengers' personal effects were being recovered from the water.

    Russian television showed a rescuer picking up a single, white training shoe and adding it to a pile of clothes and shredded suitcases on the deck of his dinghy.

    REUTERS

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