The US Department of Defence ruled out missiles as the cause of a plane crash that killed Wagner boss Evgeny Prigozhin on August 24, adding to the growing confusion over what caused the death of the notorious private military company leader.
The DoD said there was currently “no information to suggest that a surface-to-air missile took down the plane presumed to be carrying Russian mercenary leader.” Russian sources reported that the plane carrying 10 people, including the notorious leader of Russia’s PMC (private military company), was shot down by air defence fire from the Bologovsky district of the Tver region.
Air Force Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, offered no evidence or further details on what US officials believe caused the crash as he made his remarks at a Pentagon news conference.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation. Other Russian source speculate that the plane crash could also have been caused by sabotage or an on board bomb.
The plane flew from the Moscow region to St. Petersburg and crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino, Bologovsky district (not far from the "old" Leningradka and 50 km from the Valdai residence of Vladimir Putin).
The Ministry of Emergency Situations confirmed the death of all 10 people on board (7 passengers, 3 crew members), and the Federal Air Transport Agency - almost simultaneously - that Prigozhin himself was on the list of passengers.
The Tsargrad Telegram channel, associated with Wagner, reported that the bodies of both Prigozhin and his righthand man Drmity Utkin had been identified and confirmed dead. The Prigozhin channel Gray Zone reported on the death of the founder of the PMC “as a result of the actions of traitors to Russia”.
A missile hit has been the predominant theory from the start. The first reports that the plane was shot down by air defence systems was almost immediately reported by Gray Zone. The last seconds of the fall were caught on video - the plane is approaching the ground flat, without part of the wing and tail, suggesting the source of damage could be external.
According to Flightradar, Embraer did not descend before the fall, but continued to gain altitude - that is, what happened was fast and unexpected. Eyewitnesses on the ground spoke of two explosions in the air, and pro-military channels noticed contrails on the footage, The Bell reported.
The well respected Rybar channel believes that it is the air defence error that will be “chosen” as the main explanation for the crash by the authorities in the context of the constant Ukrainian drone raids on Moscow in recent weeks.
However, the first high-quality photos of the wreckage do not confirm this version: there is not a single characteristic hole from striking elements on the torn off tail, The Bell reports.
Alternative theories on the cause of the crash immediately surfaced. The usually well informed Mash Telegram channel wrote that the special services are checking for onboard sabotage.
Experts interviewed by Mash said there is no evidence of rocket explosions on the fuselage of the plane, and the nature of the fall indicates an instantaneous failure of all control systems consistent with an internal explosion or a critical malfunction.
Another popular Telegram channel Tsargrad, citing a source in the commission of the Federal Air Transport Agency, said that the plane had been blown up.
Finally, a few commentators suggest that the whole thing was staged. The Bell quotes political scientist Ekaterina Shulman saying: “In order to hide forever, taking one of the many spare passports, a burned-out plane is also a good reason. The raven will not collect the bones, the ends are in ashes, the trace is cold.”
New rumours surfaced on August 24 to support the staged version. Al Jazeera cited unconfirmed reports that while Prigozhin’s phone was found at the crash site, his body was missing, contradicting earlier reports confirming Prigozhin’s death. Some Telegram channels claimed that Prigozhin is alive and well and in Mali, where Wagner have extensive operations.