Ukrainian president promises to accept any conclusion in crash probe
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma promised Wednesday to accept any conclusion in the investigation into the crash of a Russian passenger plane – even one that implicates his nation’s military.
Ukrainian officials have until now strongly denied accusations that a Ukrainian missile mistakenly hit the Tu-154 plane as it flew over the Black Sea on Oct. 4. All 66 passengers and 12 crew members aboard were killed. They were traveling from Tel Aviv, Israel, to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.
But Ukraine’s stance appeared to be shifting after a top Russian investigator said Tuesday that experts have found fragments resembling the missile’s payload at the Black Sea crash site.
”Whatever the joint working group signs, I will agree with it,” the Interfax news agency quoted Kuchma as saying during a meeting in Kiev that was closed to foreign journalists.
He also said Ukraine’s prestige would not be damaged, no matter what the outcome of the investigation.
”Just look around. Errors do happen everywhere, in the world and in Europe,” the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.
U.S. intelligence officials believe the plane was hit by a Ukrainian S-200 missile during exercises on the Crimean Peninsula, which juts into the Black Sea.
Russian investigators initially focused on the possibility of a terrorist attack, but Russia appears to be preparing to blame the Ukrainian military for the crash of the Sibir Airlines plane.
On Tuesday, presidential aide and former Russian air force commander Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, a member of a state commission investigating the disaster, said small metal balls found in the bodies of those killed and in the fragments of the plane’s sheeting resemble the S-200 missile payload.
Thirteen of 14 bodies recovered so far have been identified, Interfax quoted the Prosecutor General’s Office in Moscow as saying.
ITAR-Tass quoted Sergei Fridinsky, deputy prosecutor general, as saying on Wednesday that carbon monoxide was found in the victims’ blood, proving there had been a fire on board.
The chief of Ukraine’s air defenses Volodymyr Tkachov and a delegation of generals flew to Sochi on Wednesday to discuss the probe.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh declined Wednesday to comment on the crash causes. But like Kuchma, Kinakh said he would welcome any ”professional and substantial” findings regardless of their content.
Of the 66 passengers killed, 51 were Israeli citizens, most of them recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Israel declared a national day of mourning Thursday.
In Lod, Israel, relatives sobbed at an air base as a rabbi read psalms Wednesdday in front of seven caskets with the bodies of Israelis killed in the crash. The bodies were flown home on an Israeli Hercules transport.
The crash was the second tragedy to strike the community of immigrants this year. On June 1, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in front of a Tel Aviv disco, the Dolphinarium, killing himself and 21 other people, most of them teen-age immigrants.
”The Dolphinarium and this tragedy bring us together in grief and hope,” Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said. ”Let us take you into our hearts, and we will all cry together. Our home will be your home.”
An S-200, also known as SA-5, a large surface-to-air missile built to shoot down heavy bombers flying at high altitudes, was fired during the exercise just minutes before the plane went down.
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