Pilot Shouted: 'Where Were We Hit?'; Israel Mourns Crash Victims

Air traffic controllers heard the pilot of the Sibir Airlines plane that crashed last Thursday over the Black Sea shout "Where were we hit?" before losing contact with the plane, Israel Radio reported citing a Russian publication. All 78 passengers on board the plane - including at least 50 Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Union - were killed.

The call corroborates growing signs that Sibir Airlines plane was in fact hit by a Ukrainian missile, fired during a training exercise

Six minutes before the tragedy, plane captain Yifgeni Garov was in contact with air traffic controllers, and informed them that the plane was fine. At about 1:45 P.M. the plane disappeared from radar screens, but radio contact continued for a few more seconds, during which controllers heard Garov's message.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said Thursday that Defense Minister Oleksander Kuzmuk tendered his resignation immediately after a Russian plane crash a week ago, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.

But Kuchma was quoted as saying that he had not accepted Kuzmuk's resignation. It was unclear when precisely Kuzmuk had offered to quit.

Kuchma told reporters during a trip to western Ukraine that he would wait to see a report by crash investigators.

State flags are being flown at half-mast around Israel as the country observes a national day of mourning Thursday for 50 Russian-born Israeli immigrants who were killed a week ago, when a Russian plane crashed over the Black Sea.

The Knesset began a special session at 11:00 A.M., and an official state ceremony is to be held 30 days from the day of the tragedy.

At the opening of the special session, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said "in the past year our brothers, the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, have experienced black days of pain and blood. There were many victims among the immigrants before... Since the beginning of the [Al Aqsa Intifada] 48 immigrants have been killed, 37 of them from the Commonwealth of Independent State. And as if this were not enough, the disaster of the crashed airplane came upon us, killing 78 people, including 12 crew."

A state memorial ceremony for the victims of the plane crash was held Wednesday evening at the Lod airforce base. An Israel Air Force plane carrying seven coffins draped with the Israeli flag landed at the base, accompanied by the families who had managed to identify their loved ones and bring them back to Israel for burial.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said at the ceremony that Israel will hold a serious investigation into the causes of the disaster. Peres thanked Russian authorities for their assistance in the rescue and salvage work.

Another seven funerals of victims of the disaster will take place in the next few days in Russia. It seems almost certain that another 63 families will be left with no body, no funeral, no tombstone. Some of them received personal belongings Wednesday that had been found among the wreckage of the plane.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said Wednesday that he will accept the findings of the Russian investigation team regarding the causes of the plane crash. Until now the Ukraine has denied the claims that a missile fired during a military maneuver caused the accident. On Tuesday the Russian investigation team discovered fragments of a missile used by the Ukrainian army amongst the plane wreckage.

The deputy secretary of Russia's national security council Vladimir Potakov told Ha'aretz that missile shards had been found among the wreckage, and that the final findings would be released only after they are examined in Moscow. He said that it is now certain that the plane crashed due to explosives hitting it from the outside, and not from the inside, and the main direction of the investigation is that a missile hit the plane, but he refused to explicitly blame the Ukraine.