A Russian military transport plane crashed in Syria on Tuesday killing all 39 people on board, Russian officials said, an incident that sharply raised the death toll from the Kremlin’s intervention in the Syrian war.
President Vladimir Putin, who is running for re-election later this month, declared in December that the Russian mission in Syria was largely completed, but casualties continue to mount.
The Kremlin said in a statement that the plane, a Soviet-designed An-26, crashed at Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province. The cause may have been a technical malfunction, the Kremlin said.
“According to the latest updates, the An-26 transport aircraft, which crashed while landing at Hmeymim airbase, was carrying 33 passengers and six crew. All of them were members of the Russian Armed Forces,” Interfax news agency quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying. “The crew and the passengers were killed.”
Originally, Russian news agencies cited the defence ministry as saying that 32 passengers and crew were killed in the crash but this was later revised.
Russian state TV cited military officials as saying the aircraft had not been brought down by enemy fire. It said the plane came down around 500 metres (550 yards) short of the runway at Hmeymim as it attempted to land.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in a telegram offering his condolences, said when the crash happened, the service personnel on board were returning to base after completing an unspecified combat mission.
Putin, on an election campaign stop in the Ural mountains, was briefed on the crash via telephone by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and expressed his condolences to the relatives and colleagues of those killed, the Kremlin said.