More than 60 members of group were on the aircraft
Ensemble immensely popular in Russia
Russia is mourning its “cultural paratroopers” after more than 60 members of the world famous Alexandrov Ensemble were apparently killed in a plane crash Sunday.
The Russian army’s official dance and choir company was on its way to the Khmeimim airbase in Latakia, Syria, to give an hour-long performance to troops.
The group’s conductor, Valery Khalilov, was also on the plane, according to Russian media.
“Our cultural paratroopers perished,” the head of the Moscow government’s culture department, Alexander Kibovsky, said in televised remarks.
“These people always performed in war zones, they wore uniforms, they brought kindness and light.”
A Tupolev Tu-154 plane carrying 84 passengers and eight crew members disappeared from radar Sunday morning local time after taking off from the Adler airport near the Black Sea city, state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, there are apparently no survivors.
READ: What’s the story behind the Tu-154?
In a statement on Facebook, General Victor Eliseev, conductor and director of the MVD Red Army Choirs, which works under the Ministry for Internal Affairs, said the crash was a “terrible loss for Russian music and art.”
“Today we are in shock at the catastrophe in which our colleagues of the Alexandrov Choirs and Dances disappeared,” he said.
“Not only were they our colleagues, but a very important military art company.
“I am shocked to learn of the disappearance of their leader, my fellow student and friend General Valery Khalilov, with whom we studied and professed together at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow . It is a terrible loss for Russian music and art.”
Alexandrov Ensemble, established in 1928, has toured the world performing Russian folk songs, World War II anthems and patriotic music. Immensely popular, it has been dubbed “Russia’s singing weapon.”
The ensemble consists of between 100 and 120 members depending on the type of performance given. It includes a choir, a dance troupe and an orchestra. Since their performance at the airbase was going to be mostly a capella, only the choir and a handful dancers were aboard the plane, Russian media reported.
“The orchestra did not fly because [the choir] was supposed to use pre-recorded music,” choir singer Sergei Khlopnikov, who didn’t make the trip because his daughter was sick, told the Interfax news agency.
CNN’s Julia Jones in Atlanta, Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow and Sarah Sirgany in Abu Dhabi contributed to this report.