Russia said Tuesday that a technical malfunction had caused a military plane to crash a day earlier into a residential building near Ukraine, killing over a dozen people and spurring an outpouring among locals.
The crash late Monday ignited a towering blaze in the Soviet-style housing block, but by morning rescue workers were clearing the charred debris and grieving locals were leaving flowers at a memorial.
Authorities reported a 15th death on Tuesday due to the Sukhoi Su-34 aircraft’s slamming into the building in Yeysk, which sits across a narrow part of the Azov Sea from the Russian-held port of Mariupol in Ukraine.
A Yeysk resident told state television channel Rossiya-24 that two of her friends who had only recently bought a flat in the building were killed.
“They just took a mortgage. We are in mourning,” she said.
Nineteen people were injured, four of them — including a five-year-old girl and a teenage boy — were critically wounded, a regional official said.
Investigators announced they were questioning the pilots, who managed to parachute out of the plane before it crashed into the nine-storey building, engulfing it in flames.
Amateur footage on social media showed locals running to one of the pilots who lay on the ground, still attached to his parachute.
The southern seaside town was in shock.
One local, Natalia Kush, told state media she had seen the pilot ejecting from the jet from her window.
“I heard a terrible explosion. I looked outside and I saw the pilot flying right by me,” she told the Rossiya 24 news channel, visibly shaken.
The Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said it had launched a criminal enquiry into flight safety violations.
“The pilots who managed to eject, as well as the airfield personnel, are being questioned,” the investigators said.
It also said it had “seized fuel samples at the departure aerodrome” and “flight recorders at the site of the crash”.
On Monday, Russia’s defence ministry said the jet collided with the block, which was home to around 600 people, during a training flight.
Veniamin Kondratiev, the governor of the Krasnodar region that includes Yeysk, said that the region will have a three-day period of mourning.
He said residents of the building had been put in temporary accommodation and were receiving psychological help.
Locals meanwhile were leaving flowers and children’s toys at a makeshift memorial near the building, where a black board read “Yeysk. 17.10.2022. We remember. We mourn.”
Locals placed red roses, candles and smiling teddy bears around the board, in memory of the three children killed by the crash.
The Kremlin said Tuesday that President Vladimir Putin “expresses deep condolences to those families who lost their loves ones as a result of this disaster.”
Images of the dramatic crash showed the burnt-out fuselage of the plane, which snapped in two on impact.
One of its mangled wings bore a red star — the symbol of the Russian army.
The remains of wrecked parked cars littered the foot of the building, trapped when the blaze engulfed at least five of its floors.