Russian villagers report explosion before ‘Prigozhin’ plane crash

The residents of a nearby village where a plane crashed and killed all on board, possibly including the Wagner mercenary chief, say they heard a bang before seeing the jet fall to the ground.

On Wednesday, a private jet crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in Russia’s Tver region on its way from Moscow to St Petersburg, killing all 10 passengers on board, including three crew members.Kuzhenkino resident Vitaly Stepenok, 72, told the Reuters news agency: “I hear an explosion or a bang. Usually, if an explosion happens on the ground then you get an echo, but it was just a bang and I looked up and saw white smoke.”

“One wing flew off in one direction and the fuselage went like that,” he said, gesturing with his arms to show how the plane headed down towards the ground.

“And then it glided down on one wing. It didn’t nose-dive, it was gliding.”

Another villager named Anatoly said, “In terms of what might have happened, I’ll just say this: it wasn’t thunder, it was a metallic bang – let’s put it that way. I’ve heard things like that before.”The plane crash came two months after the mercenary group’s aborted mutiny against the Russian military top generals, in which he publicly accused them of incompetence in the war in Ukraine.

According to a passenger list, the people on board were members of the group, including founder Yevgeny Prigozhin and his second-in-command, Dmitry Utkin.

While there has been no official comment from the Kremlin about the crash and the possible death of the mercenary leader, a Telegram channel linked to the Wagner Group pronounced Prigozhin dead.

Forensic investigators erected a tent and lighting gear at the wreckage site as part of the plane’s blue and white tail and other fragments lay on the ground.

Reporting from the crash scene, Al Jazeera’s Amine Derghami said: “We can confirm that two vehicles arrived at the crash site to transport the dead. Parts of the plane were found 2km away … but the search has been difficult.”

“The Russian authorities have confirmed Prigozhin was on board the flight. The Russian aviation federation released the passenger list earlier, seven Wagner members with three aircrew.

“Until now, the investigation team has not confirmed that Prigozhin’s body has been found or that he was killed in the crash.”

Russian investigators said they had opened a criminal investigation into the plane crash.

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