Yevgeny Prigozhin's jet appeared fine before deadly crash
Jul 06, 2023
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Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s doomed private plane showed no signs of distress until a sudden drop 30 seconds before the deadly crash in Russia — amid speculation that the rogue warlord’s plane may have been downed by a bomb hidden in a crate of wine.
The Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet, with Prigozhin and other senior Wagner Group members listed among the 10 passengers, showed “no indication that there was anything wrong” earlier in the flight Wednesday, according to Ian Petchenik of the flight-tracking site Flightradar24.
It then made a “sudden downward vertical” at 5:19 p.m. local time — and within about 30 seconds, plummeted more than 8,000 feet from its cruising altitude of 28,000 feet.
“Whatever happened, happened quickly,” Petchenik said. “They may have been wrestling [with the aircraft] after whatever happened.
Video showed the plane plummeting with its nose pointing almost straight downward and a plume of smoke or vapor trailing behind it.
Flightradar24 received its final data on the jet at 5:20 p.m., moments before it fell out of the sky near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver region while traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
The Embraer jet model has a stellar safety record, with only one recorded accident in more than 20 years of service.
The Brazilian plane manufacturer said it had not been providing support services for Prigozhin’s jet since 2019 in compliance with US sanctions on the mercenary boss.
The Pentagon said Thursday that preliminary intelligence reports had indicated that Prigozhin was killed by an explosion aboard the plane.
Since news of the plane crash broke Wednesday, there has been furious speculation about its cause and who may have targeted Prigozhin — less than two months after he was labeled a “traitor” by Russian President Vladimir Putin for leading a short-lived mutiny against his top military brass.
Putin, who had vowed to avenge the Wagner group’s short lived armed rebellion in June, finally acknowledged and confirmed Prigozhin’s death while offering condolences to his family.
“I want to express my most sincere condolences to the families of all the victims. It’s always a tragedy,” Putin said in televised remarks.
“I had known Prigozhin for a very long time, since the start of the 90s. He was a man with a difficult fate, and he made serious mistakes in life.”
One of the theories spreading on Russian social media sites is that a bomb had been planted onboard Prigozhin’s plane, possibly concealed inside a crate of wine, reported the Telegram channel VChK-OGPU, which is linked to Russian security services.
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin as a talented businessman following the plane crash that apparently killed him.
Prigozhin was the owner of the private military contractor Wagner Group.
Prigozhin planned to capture the Russian military’s top officials during his attempted coup.
Prigozhin and his mercenary fighting force did not face charges and were instead exiled despite leading an armed insurrection against the Kremlin.
Prigozhin began his career as a petty criminal — he was convicted of robbery and assault in 1981 and served 12 years in prison.
He criticized the Russian Ministry of Defense as incompetent and accused it of withholding arms and ammunition from his troops, who were fighting on behalf of Russia in Ukraine.
Prigozhin was indicted in the United States for interfering in the 2016 presidential election through his infamous internet “troll factory.”
“Supposedly someone testified that at the very last moment, a certain gift consisting of a crate of expensive wine was loaded unto the plane,” wrote VChK-OGPU. “And now they are looking into claims that the crate may have contained a bomb.”
The plane had been carefully searched with sniffer dogs before the wine crate had been loaded, added the Telegram channel.
The same outlet also reported, citing another anonymous source, that the flight attendant on the jet, identified as Kristina Raspopova, told her brother in a phone conversation before the ill-fated trip Wednesday that she and the rest of the crew were awaiting an “important phone call” pending their imminent departure from Moscow.
Raspopova also allegedly said the jet had been undergoing repairs.
Investigators are said to be probing the possibility that an explosive was planted in the jet’s landing gear, reported the Russian outlet SHOT.
British defense sources speaking anonymously to BBC News pointed a finger at Russia’s FSB domestic intelligence agency, which is loyal to Putin. They provided no evidence to back up this claim.
The Telegram channel Grey Zone, which is closely tied to the Wagner Group, reported, citing “various sources, that Russian air defense systems shot Prigozhin’s plane out of the sky.
Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter-turned-critic, suggested that the Russian strongman was behind the crash and had bolstered his authority, which was challenged by Prigozhin’s June rebellion.
“The establishment is now convinced that it will not be possible to oppose Putin,” Gallyamov wrote on Telegram. “Putin is strong enough and capable of revenge.”
Bill Browder, a prominent businessman and outspoken Kremlin foe, went even further in blaming Putin.
“Putin never forgives and never forgets. He looked like a humiliated weakling with Prigozhin running around without a care in the world (after the mutiny). This will cement his authority,” Browder wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Some of Prigozhin’s supporters have accused Ukraine of orchestrating the crash on the eve of the country’s Independence Day.
“We had nothing to do with it,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told reporters Thursday.
“Everybody realizes who has something to do with it.”
Prigozhin’s June 23 revolt aimed at ousting Russia’s top military leaders over their handling of the Ukraine war posed the most serious challenge to Putin’s 23-year grip on power.
The brief uprising ended within two days when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko brokered a deal that allowed the Wagner Group to relocate to Belarus.
Russia’s aviation agency published the names of all 10 people on board the downed plane, including Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, his right-hand man and the purported co-founder of the Wagner Group.
Others who were said to be on the jet and were presumed dead included the flight attendant, Raspopova, Prigozhin’s security chief Valery Chekalov, officers Sergei Propustin and Nikolai Matyuseev, bodyguards Yevgeny Makaryan and Alexander Totmin, pilot Aleksei Levshin and co-pilot Rustam Karimov.
The country’s main investigative body launched a criminal probe into the deadly incident.
“It will be carried out in full, and taken right to the end,” Putin said.
With Post wiresREAD MORE