Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin's private jet showed no signs of trouble until an abrupt descent occurred just 30 seconds prior to the fatal crash in Russia. Speculation is rife that the aircraft of the renegade military commander might have been brought down by a bomb hidden inside a crate of wine.
This came as it was revealed that the body of Prigozhin was positively identified in a Russian morgue by a commander of the mercenary group, according to a new report. He was identified by a missing of part his left-hand finger, an injury he had sustained several years ago during his incarceration in a penal colony, according to the well-connected VChK-OGPU Telegram channel.
Suspicious Descent of Aircraft
The Embraer Legacy 600 private jet, carrying Prigozhin and several high-ranking members of the Wagner Group as part of the 10 passengers, experienced an abrupt and steep descent, described as a "sudden downward vertical" at 5:19 p.m. local time on Wednesday, according to Ian Petchenik of the flight-tracking website Flightradar24.
Within 30 seconds, the aircraft had descended over 8,000 feet from its cruising elevation of 28,000 feet.
"Whatever happened, happened quickly," Petchenik said. "They may have been wrestling [with the aircraft] after whatever happened.
There was "no indication that there was anything wrong with this aircraft" prior to the abrupt drop, Petchenik continued.
A video that has gone viral on social media showed the plane rapidly descending, its nose angled almost vertically downward, accompanied by a trail of smoke or vapor trailing behind it.
Flightradar24 received the last data from the aircraft at 5:20 pm, moments before it crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver region. The flight was traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
The Embraer jet model boasts a strong safety record, with only one recorded incident over more than two decades of operation.
The Brazilian aircraft manufacturer confirmed that it had stopped providing support services for Prigozhin's plane in 2019, in adherence to US sanctions against the leader of the mercenaries.
Conspiracy Theories Flood Social Media
Following the news of the plane crash on Thursday afternoon, there has been intense speculation about the cause of the incident and the suspected masterminds behind the targeting of Prigozhin.
His death comes less than two months after he was branded a "traitor" by Russian President Vladimir Putin for leading a short-lived uprising against his high-ranking military superiors.
Among the theories circulating on Russian social media platforms is the suggestion that a bomb might have been planted on Prigozhin's plane, potentially hidden within a case of wine, VChK-OGPU Telegram channel, associated with Russian security services, reported.
According to VChK-OGPU, there are claims that a valuable gift in the form of an expensive wine crate was loaded onto the aircraft at the very last moment, and there are ongoing investigations into the possibility that this crate could have contained a bomb.
The plane had undergone thorough inspection with sniffer dogs before the wine crate was loaded, as mentioned by the Telegram channel.
The same source also mentioned, based on an anonymous insider, that Kristina Raspopova, the flight attendant aboard the plane, had reportedly told her brother during a phone conversation before the ill-fated flight on Wednesday.
She mentioned that she and the crew were expecting an "important phone call" while they were on standby for their imminent departure from Moscow. Allegedly, Raspopova also said that the jet had been undergoing maintenance.
According to reports from the Russian publication SHOT, investigators are examining the possibility that a bomb could have been concealed within the plane's landing gear.
British defense sources, who chose to remain unidentified while speaking to BBC News, pointed toward Russia's FSB domestic intelligence agency, an entity loyal to Putin. However, no substantiating evidence was provided to support this assertion.
Dead and Confirmed
On Thursday, Prigozhin's body was identified by a missing portion of his left-hand finger, an injury he had sustained several years ago during his incarceration in a penal colony. Also, Dmitry Utkin, the co-founder of the Wagner Group for which the neo-Nazi group is named, was identified by his tattoos, as stated by VChK-OGPU. (Utkin is known for having several tattoos associated with Nazi symbolism.)
Following a fatal crash on Wednesday that claimed the lives of all 10 aboard and left behind charred remains, police cordoned off the mortuary in the Tver area where both bodies were taken.
Although Prigozhin and Utkin were both recorded as passengers on the fateful aircraft, speculations have circulated that Prigozhin may have evaded assassins by using a body double or by registering for a flight he wasn't planning to take.