Explosion likely brought down aircraft purportedly carrying Wagner boss, flight data and video analysis suggest
There is a puff of white and then a plane can be seen falling, a trail of smoke or vapor stretching behind it, descending rapidly against a bright blue sky. The person filming the video zooms in as the aircraft spirals downwards out of control, revealing that it is missing a wing. The footage, published by Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti, appears to show the moments before a private plane purportedly carrying mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin crashed in a field northwest of Moscow, while en route to St. Petersburg. CNN has reviewed flight data and videos, and interviewed aviation and explosive experts, to piece together what happened in the minutes leading up to the crash. The analysis suggests that the private aircraft experienced at least one “catastrophic inflight incident” before it dropped out of the sky. Available video does not show that catastrophic event.
A passenger manifest released by Russia’s civil aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, on Wednesday showed that Prigozhin’s name and that of Wagner’s top commander, Dmitry Utkin, were among the seven passengers and three crew members, all of whom Russia’s emergency services ministry said were killed. Russian authorities have yet to officially confirm Prigozhin’s death but, acknowledging the crash in public comments on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to him in the past tense. Rosaviatsia said it had launched an investigation into “the circumstances and causes of the accident.” The Investigative Committee has also launched a criminal probe. The crash came two months to the day after Prigozhin launched a short-lived mutiny against Russia’s military leadership, posing an unprecedented challenge to Putin’s authority. The Pentagon said on Thursday that Prigozhin was “likely” killed in the crash. US and western intelligence officials that CNN has spoken to believe it was deliberate. Officials said that it was too early to determine what brought the plane down, but that one possibility being explored was an on-board explosion. There’s been plenty of speculation. But no evidence has been presented pointing to the involvement of the Kremlin or Russian security services in the crash. Experts interviewed by CNN say that available evidence indicates that the crash was unlikely to have been caused by a mechanical failure. The dramatic descent of the plane, the way that it broke apart in the air and the extent of the debris field point to an explosion, they said. Source