The morning after his plane crashed in Russia’s Tver region, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death is still unconfirmed Russia’s law enforcement doesn’t see any grounds for a terrorism probe
As of Thursday morning, Russian officials still hadn’t confirmed that the founder of Russia’s notorious Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin had died after the prior evening’s plane crash. Six different sources have nevertheless confirmed his death to BBC News Russian, citing Prigozhin’s presence on the passenger list. A day earlier, the Telegram channel Grey Zone (associated with Wagner Group) and the pro-Kremlin TV channel Tsargrad both reported that Prigozhin and his close associate and Wagner commander Dmitry Utkin had been killed when Prigozhin’s Legacy 600 jet plummeted from its cruising altitude, smashing into the ground between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The human remains found at the crash site are being transported to the Tver morgue for forensic examination, report the Telegram news channels Fontanka and Shot. According to the latter, two funeral vehicles entered the secured area near the crash site at 4:30 a.m. this morning, leaving by 6 a.m. local time. Forensic experts are also working on the scene.
The flight tracker Flightradar24 has released a flight data report on the disaster. According to this source, the Prigozhin-owned aircraft stopped transmitting data at 5:46 p.m. Moscow time. Additional data show that, by 6:10 p.m., it climbed to a cruising altitude of 28,000 feet (or about 8,500 meters), maintaining it until 6:19 p.m. and then gaining and losing altitude for several minutes, when it rose to a maximum of 30,100 feet (or about 9,100 meters).
According to the same report, at 6:19 p.m. the jet began to drop precipitously, plummeting by more than 8,000 feet in 30 seconds, as clarified by Ian Petchenik of Flightradar24 to Reuters. The Russian outlet The Bell points out that whatever happened must have been very sudden, since the jet kept climbing until the moment it began its vertical descent. Eyewitnesses report hearing two explosions in the final seconds before the crash. Video footage shows that the falling aircraft was already missing its tail and part of one of its wings.
Russia’s Investigative Committee (IC) says that it doesn’t see any grounds for a terrorism probe. Its detective Ivan Sibul will investigate what’s presently being framed as a negligence case. A source in the law enforcement has told the Russian news outlet RBC that all possible causes of the catastrophe, “including a piloting error, technical malfunctions, and external impact,” will be considered.
According to the Telegram channels VChK–OGPU and RBC, the IC detective Ivan Sibul has already investigated two major plane crashes. One of them was the 2015 catastrophe at the Moscow Vnukovo airport that killed the French executive Christophe de Margerie. Another case investigated by Sibul was the Aeroflot Flight 1492 crash that took the lives of 41 people.
Prigozhin’s smartphone was found next to one of the bodies at the crash site, Al Jazeera reports, citing a Wagner Group insider, who also said that Prigozhin’s body is yet to be identified.
Apart from Prigozhin, passengers onboard the jet included a top Wagner Group commander Dmitry Utkin and mercenaries Sergey Propustin, Yevgeny Makaryan, Alexander Totmin, and Valery Chekalov (who had been in charge of several of Prigozhin’s campaigns). Another name on the passenger list, “Nikolay Matuseyev,” might possibly refer to Nikolay Matusevich, who’d served in Wagner Group since 2017, as pointed out by the Dossier Center. The remaining three people onboard were the flight captain Alexey Levshin, his co-pilot Rustam Karimov, and the flight attendant Kristina Raspopova.
An impromptu memorial has sprung up overnight near the PMC Wagner Center in St. Petersburg. The news outlet Fontanka writes that locals were bringing candles and flowers to the building until 2 a.m. on August 24.