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Fifty-one bodies have been recovered at the site of an air crash off Russia's Black Sea coast
Fifty-one bodies have been recovered at the site of an air crash off Russia's Black Sea coast that left 113 people dead Wednesday, and 42 of them have been identified, the emergencies ministry said Friday. The ministry also said about 10% of the wreckage of the downed A-320 Airbus passenger jet owned by an Armenian airline had been raised. A rescuer involved in the extensive search operation on the Black Sea near a Russian resort of Sochi said the rescue team had discovered a 20-meter long object on the seabed. "Preliminary data suggests that it could be the largest part of the Airbus fuselage," he said. Officials, however, cautioned against hasty conclusions before the object is identified. An experimental Katran rescue boat and a new Kalmar deep-sea search vehicle have arrived at the scene, and are working to locate parts of the wreckage and flight recorders. "The Kalmar has an underwater manipulator that can attach ropes to an object under water and then raise it," said Alexander Delyanov of Tetis Pro, the company that produces Kalmar. A rescue boat equipped with a side-scanning sonar searched about 40% of the crash site on Thursday, said ministry official Gennady Korotkin. The recovery operation also involves more than 700 rescue workers, 40 boats, deep-sea vehicles, a Be-200 amphibious aircraft and a Ka-32 helicopter. Meanwhile, searches continued for flight recorders, or black boxes, which are seen as the key to discovering the cause of the tragedy. Experts said the plane parts discovered at a depth of 680 meters (2,230 feet) Thursday could contain the black boxes. Airbus experts said they had picked up radio signals, which, they said, were coming from the flight recorders, an emergencies official said. "Experts from France confirmed that these were [signals from] radio beacons [black boxes]," said Sergei Kudinov, the head of a regional emergencies ministry center. However, Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said an unprecedented recovery operation would have to be conducted to reach parts of the plane lying at such depth. "We have found the precise location of the crash," Levitin said, adding that the black boxes could be damaged by sulfuric hydride sludge near the seafloor at the depth of 680 meters, so they had to be retrieved as soon as possible. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Sochi Friday to personally oversee the rescue operation. He said he hoped the black boxes would be lifted but called for a realistic view of the situation. "The detected signal from the radio beacons does not yet mean that the black boxes will be immediately raised," he said, referring to the depth of their location. Sergei Aristov, deputy head of a government commission, said officials were looking for equipment that could facilitate the search operation, and added that Italian models were under consideration. British diplomats said they were ready to help Russia in the search for the plane wreckage if necessary. Last August, British naval experts and their equipment helped to rescue the crew of a Russian Priz submersible that got trapped in fishing nets off the coast of Kamchatka in the Far East. Levitin said that Russia was hoping to raise wreckage using its own equipment, but added that the authorities might ask other countries for help. "We are holding talks with all services in Russia," Levitin said. "And if we do not find anything inside the country, we will turn to our Western colleagues."
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