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The Su-34 pilots will have ‘quite a lot of questions’ to answer What experts are saying about the Yeysk bomber plane crash
On October 17, a Su-34 bomber plane crashed near a nine-story apartment building in Yeysk, a Russian town in the Krasnodar Region. The plane struck the building and fell apart, reported the local emergency service. Spilled aircraft fuel then caught fire, which spread to the building and soon engulfed it in flames. It took six hours to extinguish the massive fire, which damaged a total of 72 apartments. Rescue teams have now finished searching for people under the rubble. 13 people are reported dead, including three children. Three of the victims died after jumping from the top floors as they tried to escape the fire, said Anna Minkova, the region’s deputy governor. 19 more people have been injured, including five children and two pregnant women. Four of the people who have been hospitalized are still in intensive care. A three-day mourning period has been declared in Yeysk. Meanwhile, experts are beginning to probe what might have caused the crash.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the crash was caused by a malfunction of one of the plane’s engines, which caught fire during a training flight. The moment when the Su-34 began to fall has been captured on video, where it can be seen losing altitude. Next, there’s a flash of light, and, seconds later, a plume of fire and smoke can be seen. The two pilots were able to eject from the plane. Later, they reported the malfunction of one of the engines. A person who spotted one of the ejected pilots in the street soon published a video, in which the pilot says that the plane had not been shot down.
Prior to the fire, the building housed 675 people. 501 of them are now staying with relatives, and 23 have been moved to temporary housing. The government has promised to pay for the victims’ funerals, and more financial assistance to the survivors. The families of people who died in the fire will each receive one million roubles (just over $16,000). Those with severe injuries will be paid 400,000 rubles (just over $6,000); people with less serious injuries will get half of that amount. There will be some compensation for lost property. District officials in Yeysk have declared a three-day mourning period on October 17–19.
Videos recorded by witnesses to the crash have captured the sound of several explosions. The authorities deny the earlier reports that the plane was flying with a full load of ammunition. “There was no blast to speak of, that’s why the nearby buildings haven’t as much as lost their windows,” said the Russian Emergency Situations Minister Alexander Kurenkov.
Valeriy Romanenko, a Ukrainian aviation expert, agrees with this assessment:
The ammunition was either minimal, or just some training ammunition, because the audible small explosions are from the onboard cannon cartridges. They have a 30-millimeter cannon, and so that series of small blasts is the cannon shells fuses going off in the fire. There aren’t any big explosions.
A criminal case has been opened under the Criminal Code Article 351 (violations of flight preparation rules, with maximal punishment of up to seven years in prison). The Investigative Committee says that investigators
took fuel samples at the departure airfield, as well as the necessary documentation. They’re questioning the pilots, who had time to eject, as well as the airfield’s personnel. The flight recorders have been recovered from the crash site and await examination.
Vladimir Popov, a retired military pilot, spoke about the crash to Fontanka, an independent news site. He called it an exceptionally rare event:
I can recall only one other instance of a plane striking an apartment building. This only happened once, in Novosibirsk. That time, it had to do with the civil pilot’s psychiatric condition. He struck the building on purpose, but the plane did not explode — it only caught fire. I don’t know of any such cases in military aviation.
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Popov has also stressed that military pilots are trained to eject only in situations when “there isn’t even the slightest danger of damaging the infrastructure on the ground.” He thinks that the two pilots who ejected from the Su-34 will have “quite a lot of questions” to answer to investigators. “I don’t envy such a pilot,” Popov went on, explaining that investigators will have to figure out whether the crash had been caused by the pilots’ behavior or by some technical factors.
Or, let’s suppose, they already brought the plane over an empty lot, but the air current changes; it turns the plane while the yokes are stuck in position, and the plane goes towards those unfortunate houses.
The Bell, a Telegram news channel, has calculated that yesterday’s crash is at least the tenth non-combat loss for the Russian air force since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Su-34 is Russia’s key bomber plane model. Since 2014, it has replaced the earlier Su-24 in the Russian military aviation. Su-34 planes have been flown in Syria, and are now flown over Ukraine. There were no prior reports of combat flights leaving from Yeysk, at least in the open sources. BBC News Russian has, nevertheless, pointed out that Yeysk has a naval aviation training center, which prepares fighter pilots.
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