Residents living around the Russian village of Kuzhenkino reported hearing bangs and seeing fire as a plane thought to carry Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin plummeted to Earth late on Wednesday.
An investigation is currently underway into what caused the plane crash, which came exactly two months after Wagner’s short-lived rebellion against Moscow’s military leadership.
One elderly local resident who declined to give her name told AFP that there were “bangs”.
“It all lit up and began to burn… It could have fallen anywhere,” she added.
Video from the scene verified by AFP appeared to show the plane, an Embraer private jet, engulfed in a plume of white smoke as it fell from the sky.
An unseen woman can be heard in the video saying the plane “banged twice” before exploding and falling.
Another resident living near Kuzhenkino, some 290 kilometres (180 miles) northwest of Moscow, said her neighbour heard a roar and saw “sparkling from the plane”, accompanied by fire.
“A neighbour ran up to me with shaking hands and when we went to the window I saw only one mushroom (a cloud from the explosion), a black cloud,” she said in video published by Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
The circumstances of the crash, which reportedly claimed the lives of some of Prigozhin’s close entourage, have prompted furious speculation about a possible assassination.