Business Jet Crashes Near Moscow. Sources Say Prigozhin Was On Board

An air disaster happened midway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. A business jet with 10 people on board crashed. According to the Federal Air Transport Agency, the head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was among the passengers.

An Embraer-135 business jet (EBM-135BJ) crashed on Thursday evening, about 300 kilometers northwest of the Russian capital. According to the state civil aviation agency Rosaviatsia, the list of 7 passengers and 3 crew members – all killed – could also include Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder and owner of the private military company Wagner.

In the evening, rescuers managed to remove the bodies of eight people. It is not officially confirmed whether Prigozhin’s identity has been established. A spokesman for the Ministry of Emergency Situations said that DNA tests would be required to identify the victims of the crash.

Along with Prigozhin, the crashed plane had on board the chief commander of the private military company, Dmitry Utkin, whose call sign “Wagner” gave the name to the entire group. In addition to Utkin, the plane carried Valery Chekalov included in the US sanctions list for “facilitating the export of arms and military technologies to Russia from third countries.” The Telegram channel Grey Zone close to the private military group wrote, “The head of the Wagner group, the hero of Russia and a true patriot, Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, died as a result of the actions by traitors to Russia.” At night, a cross appeared at the Wagner group headquarters in St. Petersburg, formed by the lights lit in the office building. The pictures were distributed by various Russian media.

The Russian prosecutor’s office immediately opened an investigation, which at the moment does not rule out any of the three hypotheses ranging from the classic “pilot error” to “terrorist attack” and even possible “external influence.”

According to some rumors, the plane flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg, where the “headquarters” of the Wagner paramilitary group is located, could be shot down by a bomb, or even by the American Stinger man-portable air defense system, a missile similar to the Russian Igla (“Needle”) system. According to eyewitnesses – residents of the village of Kuzhenkino, Bologonsky district – “two very loud pops were heard, one after another, then the plane went down, crashing to the ground in a meadow where, fortunately, there were no houses.” In a video taken on a smartphone by a resident of Kuzhenkino, a white trail is very clearly visible in the sky, typical of a surface-to-air missile. Experts have refuted the hypothesis of a missile attack, since the maximum height does not exceed 3800 meters for Stinger and 2500 meters for the Igla anti-aircraft missile. At a distance of 300 kilometers from the Moscow airport, Prigozhin’s jet would fly at a much higher altitude – 11,300 meters, as the Embraer-135 is equipped with two Rolls-Royce turbofan engines.

According to well-known Russian journalist Ksenia Sobchak, the business jet with tail number RA-02795 belonged to billionaire Prigozhin. In 2019, the US authorities imposed sanctions on three of Prigozhin’s aircraft: Hawker 800 XP, British Aerospace 125, and Embraer-135.

Yevgeny Prigozhin was last seen a couple of days ago. In the video, apparently filmed in Africa, the head of the Wagners spoke about the activities of his mercenaries on the Black Continent after the break with the Russian authorities as a result of the coup attempt on June 23-24.

The White House said President Joe Biden was immediately notified of the incident. “I don’t know for sure what happened, but I’m not surprised,” the US president told reporters. The USA made it clear that something could happen to Prigozhin a couple of months ago, when, during a press conference in Helsinki, Biden himself joked about the risks that, after an attempted “march” of freedom on Moscow, could exist for the owner of the Wagner company. “If I were him, I would be careful about what I eat, I would keep the menu under control,” the US President said.