This photograph posted on a Wagner-linked Telegram channel @grey_zone on August 23, 2023, and which can not be independetly verified by the AFP, reportedly shows a the wreckage of burning plane near the village of Kuzhenkino, Tver region. AFP
Yevgeny Prigozhin was reportedly on board a private jet that crashed with no survivors. The crash occurred northwest of Moscow, close to the village of Kuzhenkino in Russia's Tver region. The plane was en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg when tragedy struck.
Ten individuals were aboard the aircraft at the time of the crash. However, only eight bodies have been recovered so far, leaving some uncertainty about the fate of the remaining passengers.
The Federal Air Transport Agency shared the names of the passengers it said were on board, in addition to Prigozhin.
They Included Valeriy Chekalov, a senior aide to Prigozhin designated by the US Treasury for acting "for or on behalf of Prigozhin and has facilitated shipments of munitions to the Russian Federation", and Dmitriy Utkin, a trusted lieutenant of Prigozhin's since the beginning of the Wagner Group.
Wreckage of the plane crash northwest of Moscow is scattered across a 2-kilometer debris field, Russian state media reported Thursday.
State-run news agency RIA Novosti also reported that one of the fragments of the plane is lying on the entry road into the village of Kuzhenkino, which is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the crash site.
According to RIA, police officers cordoned off the fragment and several special services cars are parked nearby.
It’s not yet clear what caused the plane to crash. Russian authorities said they are investigating and conducting search operations, However, the crash has prompted speculation about the potential causes.
Flight data revealed that the plane reached an altitude of 28,000 feet before abruptly ceasing to transmit tracking information.
The official state news agency TASS reported the plane “burned up” on impact. It had been in the air for about half an hour.
A video published by Russian state media RIA Novosti showed a plane plummeting with one wing missing.
Prigozhin supporters claimed on pro-Wagner messaging app channels that the plane was deliberately downed, including suggesting it could have been hit by an air defense missile or targeted by a bomb on board.
Videos shared by the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Grey Zone showed a plane dropping like a stone from a large cloud of smoke, twisting wildly as it fell. Such freefalls can occur when an aircraft sustains severe damage, and a frame-by-frame AP analysis of two videos was consistent with some sort of explosion mid-flight.
“It’s coming down quickly in a spin, and it’s trailing a lot of smoke. So, this is an aircraft that was on fire. And it looks like some structural pieces, aerodynamic surfaces, were missing,” veteran science and aerospace reporter Miles O’Brien told CNN after reviewing footage of the plane’s fall.
“An aircraft like this … they just don’t catastrophically drop out of the sky without something very unusual happening,” he added.
It could be caused by an explosion either inside or outside the aircraft, O’Brien added – like an explosive going off on board, or the aircraft being hit by a missile.
David Soucie, a former safety inspector with the US Federal Aviation Administration, echoed this possibility, saying the plane’s fall looked like it had only one wing left.