Kiev- At least 22 people including military cadets were killed and two others were seriously injured on Friday when a Ukrainian air force plane crashed near Kharkiv in the east of the country, the interior ministry said.
Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko confirmed the death toll to AFP, describing the incident as a “shock”, and saying that the cause of the crash was being investigated.
Footage of the crash released by officials on social media showed the smouldering remains of the Antonov-26 transport plane.
“Most of [the dead] were students” of the Kharkiv National Air Force University, the air force said in a statement.
There were 27 people on board, 20 cadets and seven crew, it added.
Twenty-two have been confirmed dead, two are injured and “the search for three more people continues”, the emergency services said.
The injured are in a “critical” condition, regional governor Oleksiy Kucher said on Facebook.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the crash as a “terrible tragedy” and said he would travel to the Kharkiv region on Saturday.
“We are urgently creating a commission to investigate all the circumstances and causes of the tragedy,” he wrote on Facebook.
The plane crashed at around 8:50 pm local time (17:50 GMT), two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the Chuhuiv military air base, the emergency services said.
In photos released by the emergency services, firefighters in helmets and reflective clothing sprayed aircraft debris with jets of water.
The body of the plane burst into flames on landing and firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze after an hour.
The town of Chuhuiv is around 30 kilometres southeast of Kharkiv and 100 kilometres west of the front line where government forces are fighting pro-Russian separatists.
The presidency said that according to preliminary information the transport plane crashed during a training flight.
The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell sent his condolences on behalf of the bloc.
“My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives,” he tweeted.
Several military planes have crashed in Ukraine during training flights in recent years.
A pilot was killed in December 2018 after his Su-27 fighter crashed during landing in the Zhytomyr region.
Two months earlier, the same model of fighter crashed in a neighbouring region during the Clear Sky 2018 joint military exercises between Ukraine and NATO countries, killing the American and Ukrainian pilots on board.
In 2002, a Su-27 fell into the crowd at an airshow in Lviv in the western Ukraine killing 77 people and injuring 165 others.
The Antonov-26 is a light transport aircraft designed in Ukraine during the Soviet era.
It is 24 metres long and has a wingspan of 29 metres and can fly at a cruising speed of 440 kilometres per hour.
In 2014, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was downed killing 298 people over an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Moscow has denied the findings of international investigators that a Russian BUK missile hit the Malaysian Airlines flight.
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