Russia: No Evidence of Criminal act while experts rule out Accident

Russia’s security service says it has no evidence of criminal act as aviation
experts rule out accident: Family’s grief after final phone call from doomed

The Guardian – United Kingdom
Aug 26, 2004


Mikhail Degtaryev, a Volgograd businessman, aged 56, was jubilant when
he boarded the Tupolev-134 in Moscow. He had left his home town early
that morning to catch the 6.40am shuttle to the capital, where he
would, during the day trip, sign a contract that was the big break for
the family export business he had run for 15 years.

As he sat back in his seat, he rang the younger of his two daughters,
Yevgenia, 36, on his mobile phone to wish her happy birthday. She bid
her father goodbye and said she would see him soon, at the airport.

“It was his last call,” said his secretary, Tatiana, by telephone
yesterday. “I spoke with him yesterday, he was very happy after he
signed the contract and said he would tell me all about it. But what
does it mean now?”

An hour later, Mr Degtaryev’s plane fell from 10,000 metres to the
ground near the town of Tula. Witnesses heard explosions, but the
authorities still say there is no evidence yet of terrorism. For
Tatiana and Mr Degtaryev’s export company, the uncertainty only
compounds their loss.

The businessman had travelled to Moscow with the firm’s accountant,
Valentina Miglinskaya. The flight was full of the elite of the
southern town – a top oil executive, a government bank manager, the
six-year-old daughter and mother of a 24-year-old television
anchorwoman, Aida Starikova.

The plane was being piloted by Yuri Balchkin, the general director of
the airline, Volga Avia Express, a small regional company. A company
spokesman said the aircraft had been well maintained and that Mr
Balchkin was an experienced pilot.

Ms Miglinskaya’s husband went to the airport with Yevgenia and her
sister to meet the pair. “It was there the terrible news hit them,”
said Tatiana. She said Ms Miglinskaya’s husband returned to the
company office and sat in his wife’s chair, silently, for six hours,
trying to conjure her presence one last time.

Mr Degtaryev’s daughters were too distraught to comment
yesterday. “Mikhail was like a father to all of us,” said Tatiana.

Three minutes later and 500 miles south, another tragedy unfolded. A
Tupolev-154 that had left Domodyedovo airport 40 minutes before the
Volgograd plane also fell out of the sky. Eyewitnesses reported
hearing an explosion before the crash, yet the authorities say they,
too, have not found any evidence that the plane was attacked by
terrorists. Its owner, the second largest airline in Russia, Sibir,
said it received a hijack alert from the plane, but officials have
disputed the nature of the warning.

Whatever its cause, the loss is great to the Armenian community of
Sochi, said Stepan Pogosian. He was a friend of Sarkis Organesian, 43,
a Sochi businessman who died on the Tupolev-154. He said, by
telephone: “I, like many in Sochi who knew Sarkis, are in shock. He
has two sons and a widow.

“We don’t know if it was a terrorist act or something else. The first
information was that it is, and now it seems this is being denied. We
are all in a state of shock”.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress