SUKHA BALKA, Ukraine – Authorities on Friday repatriated the remains of dozens of victims of a crash that killed all aboard a Russian jet, and some relatives also returned home from Ukraine while others still faced the agonizing task of identifying their loved ones.
Meanwhile, emergency workers using buzz saws and cranes cut up wreckage from the Pulkovo Airlines Tu-154 that crashed in a marshy field in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday and placed the pieces in crates as work at the site wound down.
The passenger jet was en route from the Russian Black Sea resort city of Anapa to St. Petersburg when it hit a severe thunderstorm over Ukraine and crashed after the crew sent repeated distress signals, killing all 170 registered on board — in some cases whole families returning from vacations.
Investigators were still trying to determine the cause, and have pinpointed difficult weather conditions as a possibility. Terrorism has been ruled out.
Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin told journalists that relatives had been able to make preliminary identifications of 52 bodies, and more than 30 of those were flown to St. Petersburg for burial.
More than 100 relatives of victims also returned from Ukraine on Friday, while others stayed as the grim process of identification continued.
The relatives have all been asked to give blood samples for cases where DNA analysis is required, and Russia's Channel One television reported that some relatives were too grief-stricken to identify remains in person, preferring to rely on DNA.
Meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, a Black Sea resort where he spends part of the summer at a presidential residence, St. Petersburg governor Valentina Matviyenko said that 96 of the victims were from her city and promised that its authorities will do their best to help stricken families.
She said the city would provide relatives of victims with 100,000 rubles, or about $3,700, and indicated there would also be compensation from the airlines and the federal government.
In comments shown on state-run television networks, Putin urged city authorities to consider each case individually, noting that financial and other circumstances vary.
Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin said there were five foreign nationals on the flight: two each from the Netherlands and Finland and one German.
Authorities have said they found 171 bodies, but have noted some of the remains are very broken. The official flight list registered 160 passengers and 10 crew. The two flight recorders, also found, are being studied in Russia.