A Russian transport plane crashed in Syria, killing 39 passengers and crewmembers as it was attempting to land at Hmeimin air base in northwest Syria, Russian state media reported.
Initial reports put the crash as a technical malfunction and not combat related. Hmeimin is located about 150 miles north of Damascus and is home to the Russians largest base in Syria.
All 33 passengers and six crew members were killed in the crash, state-run RIA-Novosti reported, citing the Defense Ministry. Earlier, it had been reported that 32 people had died.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was briefed on the incident by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during a working visit to Russia’s Sverdlovsk region, the Kremlin said in a statement.
The crash occurred as the Antonov-26 transport plane came down 500 meters (about 550 yards) short of the runway, the Defense Ministry said in a statement quoted by the state-run news agency, Tass.
The ministry said it was investigating the crash, adding that “preliminary data suggests it could be a technical malfunction.” It also ruled out the possibility that the plane had been fired upon.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal case over the crash, committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko told Tass.
Tuesday’s crash was not the deadliest air incident related to Russia’s military intervention in Syria.
In December 2016, a Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft crashed after taking off from the Adler airport near the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, killing 84 passengers and eight crew members. The plane was carrying more than 60 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the Russian army’s official dance and choir company, on its way to Syria to give a holiday performance for troops.
Putin visited Hmeimin in December, using the opportunity to meet with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad.
Most Russian people support their involvement in the war in Syria, but opposition politicians were quick to point fingers at the Putin administration.
“How does the draw-down of forces look now? For the sake of what are these people dying? When will this senseless war end?” Dmitry Gudkov, a former member of parliament said on social media.
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