Russian military losses in its Syria intervention just doubled in one tragic fell swoop:
All people on board the crashed An-26 plane, including 33 passengers and six crew members, died in the incident, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Initially, it was reported that 32 persons were onboard.
According to the ministry, the aircraft crashed near Hmeymin air base at 3 pm on Tuesday when landing, hitting the ground 500 meters short of the runway.
A technical malfunction could have caused the crash, the ministry added, saying that the aircraft was not attacked.
An investigation into the incident is underway.
Before this crash the number of servicemen killed in Russia’s war in Syria stood at 42. Another 92 were killed in a Tu-154 crash of the Russian defense ministry in December 2016 over Black Sea enroute to Russia’s Latakia airbase.
Fully 27 of the men killed yesterday were officers including a mayor general. So many of the passengers being officers probably indicates they were pilots, perhaps coming in on a rotation. (The other, less likely possibility is that they were military trainers sent to train up the Syrians.)
If that is so and Russia just lost 20+ experienced pilots, this would represent a major blow for the Russian air force, far in excess of anything it has sustained in Syria so far. It
List with 31 killed (out of 39) in today's An-26 crash in Syria:
3 colonels (including 2 navy)
— simla (@yarinah1) March 6, 2018
Training a combat pilot is extraordinarily expensive (combat jets are expensive to operate and have short lifespans compared to less agile aircraft). Particularly in the 1990s the cost of training new pilots and giving them sufficient flying time was so prohibitively expensive for Russia that very few new pilots were trained and experienced ones were retained well into their 50s.
No doubt the situation is better now, but the loss of so many at once and the training, flying hours and experience they had accumulated would be enough to shake any air force in the world, including Russia’s. It is safe to say it is more painful than the loss of all 11 airframes, 6 fixed-wing and 5 helicopters, the air force has sustained so far.
The An-26 light transport is considered a dependable plane but it is no spring chicken:
The Soviet-era Antonov An-26s, though designed and produced in the 1960s, have proved long-lived. Many of the twin-engine military transport aircraft are still in use in Russia and in a number of other countries.
It is a military transport aircraft capable of carrying up to 38 people, excluding the crew, and some 5,500 kilograms of cargo. Military experts told RIA Novosti Tuesday that although the plane was taken out of production more than 30 years ago, the An-26 is a reliable aircraft and its operational life has been successfully extended.
According to Col. Gen. Nikolai Antoshkin, former deputy commander of the Russian Air Force, the An-26 has so far successfully coped with its tasks.
“The An-26 is a reliable machine… Its operational life can be extended after three decades for five or 10 more years, depending on the situation,” Antoshkin said.
Magomed Tolboyev, one of Russia’s most famous test pilots, also said the An-26 is a “great aircraft” that “had never failed,” adding that it is hard to tell right now what led to the crash.
According to Russian media reports the specific An-26 which crashed yesterday rolled off the assembly line in the 1980s and was therefore one of the newer ones. It had been previously used among other things to fly in journalists on Syria war press tours.
According to the same reports a very strong sidewind was recorded when the Russian military plane was attempting the landing.
The partial list of the names and ranks of the servicemen lost acquired by the Russian press:
- Major Smirnov S. G.
- Senior Lieutenant D. Safronov
- Senior Lieutenant M. Panov
- Senior lieutenant Altunin KN
- Sergeant Osipkin A.V.
- Senior sergeant Epifanov
- Major General Yeremeyev V.G.
- Captain 1st Rank Sachuk AM
- Captain 1st rank Moiseev M.A.
- Colonel Fedun S.V.
- Major A. Morozov
- Senior Sergeant Lushkov S.V.
- Ensign M. Grigoriev
- Captain Gorban K.A.
- Captain Gaidarkhanov E. S.
- Junior sergeant Belov A.I.
- Senior sergeant Bogatyrev ZM
- Major M. Mounev
- Captain Pylenok AA
- Captain Sheyntsivt S.V.
- Major Chagin EV
- Senior Ensign Grabovsky S.V.
- Captain Trufanov A.V.
- Major Kukushkin D.I.
- Senior lieutenant A. Shevchenko
- Corporal Khoromoytsev IK
- Major V. Mikryukov
- Captain Rasputin NB
- Sergeant Serezhenkov EA
- Junior sergeant Chapdarov B.R.
- Senior Lieutenant Levchuk GS