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Georgia Remembers Crash Victims

October 27, 2000

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) _ Flags flew at half-staff and priests chanted requiem Masses on Friday as the nation observed a day of mourning for 83 people killed when a Russian military plane slammed into a mountain in western Georgia.

Investigators continued to scour the mountainside for remains of the 80 Russians and three Georgians on board the Il-18 transport plane when it crashed Wednesday night, said Russia’s emergency situations minister, Sergei Shoigu.

Rescuers so far have recovered 68 bodies, ministry spokeswoman Anastasia Tomilova said.

Shoigu told Russia’s ORT state-controlled television that nine bodies had been identified, but that the rest of the remains recovered so far ``are in such condition that it’s hardly likely they’ll be identified.″

Authorities still don’t know what caused the four-engine turboprop plane to veer off course on its approach to the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi. Some Russian officials said that the weather was harsh, but they also speculated that pilot error or technical problems had caused the crash.

Rescuers on Thursday located two ``black boxes″ that may hold clues to the cause of the crash. Shoigu said investigators would try to decipher them later Friday.

On Thursday, top Russian military officials said 86 people died in the crash. However, on Friday, Russian National Security Council secretary Sergei Ivanov said there were 83 dead, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Ivanov, who is heading the joint Georgian-Russian investigation into the crash, said the remains would be sent to the Russian military forensic laboratory in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.

The flight was carrying Russian servicemen, their families, 11 crew members and 2,860 pounds of supplies to Russia’s military base in Batumi, according to ITAR-Tass. The passengers were returning to Batumi after being on leave or away on missions.

It was the biggest aviation disaster in Georgian history. The head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, Catholicos Ilia II, was to conduct a requiem service in Tbilisi’s main Sion Cathedral, and churches of all denominations held memorial services in Batumi.

Tbilisi Mayor Vano Zodelava said that all the entertainment scheduled for this weekend’s Day of Tbilisi festivities had been canceled.