Russian and Ukrainian Officials: Missile Downed Plane

Russian and Ukrainian officials today said the Oct. 4 downing of a Russian commercial plane over the Black Sea, which killed 78 people, was caused by a missile.

Vladimir Rushailo, secretary of the Russian Security Council and chairman of the special government commission investigating the incident today said the accident was "the result of a strike by the warhead of an anti-aircraft missile."

The official announcement, which was made in the Russian town of Sochi today, followed widespread reports that a Ukrainian missile mistakenly fired at the Tu-154 airliner, causing it to plunge in the Black Sea near Sochi.

All 78 people on board, including the crew and the passengers, most of whom were Russian immigrants to Israel, were killed in the accident.

Hours after the crash, U.S. officials told ABCNEWS that Siberian Airlines Flight SB 1812 may have been accidentally shot down by a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile fired during a military exercise.

But Russian and Ukrainian officials had dismissed the reports, saying it was too early to reach a conclusion.

Pressure on Ukraine

Today's official announcement came after increasing pressure on Ukrainian officials to take responsibility for the crash.

Speaking to reporters in the capital of Kiev today, Yevhen Marchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Security Council said, "The reason for the crash could be an unintentional hit by an S-200 missile during the Ukrainian air defense exercises."

The admission came a week after Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma ordered the creation of a Ukrainian interagency commission to look into the causes of the tragedy with their Russian counterparts.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk had earlier submitted his resignation after the tragedy occurred, but Kuchma rejected the resignation.

‘A Big White Spot on the Sea’

The Russian Tupolev 154 airliner left Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport on Oct. 4 en route to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and was about two hours into its journey when air traffic controllers in Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia, noticed that it had disappeared off their radar screens.

The air traffic controllers in Rostov-on-Don immediately contacted all aircraft in the region asking for possible sightings or unusual events.

A captain of an Armenian-owned AN-24 turboprop plane in the region replied, and said he had seen "an exploding plane" on his port side, and that debris was falling into the Black Sea.

According to Garik Ovanisian, the pilot of the Armenian AN-24, his plane was at 20,790 feet above the Black Sea when the Tupolev 154 exploded.

"I saw the explosion on the plane, which was above me at an altitude of 36,300 feet," Ovanisian said. "The plane fell into the sea, and there was another explosion in the sea. After that I saw a big white spot on the sea, and I had the impression that oil was burning."

Investigating Possibility of Terrorist Attack

Coming in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Russian officials were initially investigating the possibility that a terrorist attack had caused the crash.

Hours after the crash, Israeli aviation officials said Flight SB 1812 went through the normal security procedures at the Tel Aviv airport, where security standards are believed to be among the most stringent in the world.

On Tuesday, Sergei Fridinsky, deputy prosecutor general, told ITAR-Tass, the Russian news agency, that carbon monoxide was found in the victims' blood, proving there had been a fire on board.

According to Ukrainian media reports, metal fragments similar to shrapnel contained in the missile's warhead, were found in victims' bodies and in the body of the plane.

ABCNEWS' Sergiusz Morenc in Moscow contributed to this report.

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