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Russian authorities question pilot Artem Stepanov: he had access to the jet before takeoff

© Agenzia Nova - Reproduction reserved

The Embraer Legacy 600 aircraft carrying the leader of the Wagner paramilitary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino,in the Russian region of Tver. According to information provided by the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia), the crash occurred at 18:20 local time (17:20 in Italy) while the aircraft was en route from Moscow a St. Petersburg.There were ten people on board, including seven passengers and three crew members.

The private jet pilot, Artem Stepanov, will be questioned. According to the Telegram channel "Baza", linked to the Russian secret services, the Russian investigating authorities believe that Stepanov may have had access to Prigozhin's jet on the eve of the flight. According to Stepanov's brother, the latter has been on vacation in Kamchatka for the past week. Stepanov is a private jet pilot and former founder of Mnt-Aero, the company that owned the crashed plane. Furthermore, the pilot is subjected to US sanctions for his links with Prigozhin. The US Treasury Department had placed him on the list of sanctioned personalities. Stepanov denied the accusations and always maintained that he did not work with the head of the Wagner group and only saw him about ten years ago.

Ten bodies were found at the scene of the accident, all badly burned. After the disaster, Rosaviatsia revealed that Prigozhin was on the passenger list, and the authorities opened a criminal case for violating aviation safety rules. After a series of announcements about Prigozhin's presumed death by the Russian media, the official announcement came with a statement from Rosaviatsia.

The plane crash appears to have happened suddenly. Sources in Baza reported that immediately before the accident, the pilots had not reported any emergency situations. Before the plane crashed into the ground crackling noises were heard, a resident of the village of Kuzhenkino told the news agency “Ria Novosti”. “Two bangs in the sky and it started falling, it was out of control,” said the man, who said one of the fragments fell nearby on the highway. A resident of Kuzhenkino previously told RIA Novosti that the plane, while falling, began to roll over, and that, after smoke was visible, it began to dive.

According to some versions, Prigozhin's plane crashed due to a terrorist attack. The Gray Zone channel claims that the plane was shot down by Russian air defense. “The head of Wagner, a hero of Russia, a true patriot like Prigozhin died due to the actions of traitors to Russia,” reads the Telegram channel. “Even in hell he will be the best! Glory to Russia”, concludes the message. However, there is no confirmation of this version so far.

The flight monitoring portal Flightradar has published a report on the crash of the private flight. At 18:10 Moscow time (17:10 in Italy) the aircraft climbed to a height of 8,5 kilometers in the sky of the Tver region and continued at this height for about 9 minutes, then climbed to 9,1 .18 kilometres. At 19:600 the Embraer Legacy XNUMX began to fall and, according to the first information available, without any maneuvers taking place beforehand which could indicate possible problems or failures. The aircraft then suddenly lost altitude, descending 2.500 meters in 22 seconds. Shortly after, communications with the aircraft were cut off, evidently due to the crash.

The plane shattered during the fall and some of the debris ended up two kilometers from what is believed to be the impact area, as this is where most of the debris from the aircraft is located. Only when the commission of inquiry appointed by Rosaviatsia identifies all the fragments of the aircraft and, in particular, the black boxes, will it be possible to have a preliminary version of what happened. Rosaviatsia last night identified all the passengers on board the aircraft: among the seven passengers the founder of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Evgenij Prigozhin, and his deputy, Dmitry Utkin. Sergej Propustin was also on board, together with Evgenij Makaryan, Aleksander Totmin, Valerij Chekalov and Nikolaj Matuseev. The aircraft was piloted by Alekseij Levshin, joined by Rustam Karimov, while the registered flight attendant was named Kristina Raspopova. At 4:30 in the morning local time (3:30 in Italy) two mortuary vans arrived at the scene and at 6 (5 in Italy) left for the Tver morgue, with the remains of the victims on board.

It is worth mentioning that in the autumn of 2019, news of Prigozhin's death circulated after the crash of a military transport plane in Congo. It was later discovered that Russian citizens had died in the crash, but not the head of the Wagner group. The plane crash occurred exactly two months after the mutiny of Prigozhin and the Wagner group who, in the night between 23 and 24 June last, from Rostov-on-Don, on the border with Ukraine, began to march towards Moscow to obtain the resignation of the defense minister Sergei Shoigu and the Chief of Defense Staff, Valery Gerasimov. The advance of the mercenaries, as reported by Russian sources, stopped only following the mediation of the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Yesterday evening the building of the Wagner group in St. Petersburg was illuminated by drawing a cross, a clear gesture aimed at commemorating the disappearance of the leader and founder of the paramilitary company.

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© Agenzia Nova - Reproduction reserved


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