A Tupolev Tu-22-M-3 Backfire supersonic strategic bomber serving with the Russian Air Force's strategic-air command crashed in the Novgorod region July 8, killing four crew members. This was disclosed to RIA Novosti by Alexander Drobyshevsky, chief of the national Air Force's press center.
According to Drobyshevsky, all radio communications with the plane were lost at 11.40 p.m. Moscow time in the vicinity of Soltsy airfield (Novgorod region, north-western Russia). The Tu-22-M-3 was performing a routine night-time flight.
The aircraft crashed five km from Velebitsy near Soltsy, people at the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry's Novgorod department noted.
The bodies of four dead pilots were also found at the site of the crash, Drobyshevsky noted.
The Tu-22-M-3 was carrying no weapons, Drobyshevsky stressed.
The bomber crashed, after completing its training flight, and while executing a landing approach, RIA Novosti's Defense Ministry source noted. There were no weapons onboard, the source added.
Talking to RIA Novosti, eyewitnesses said that the Tu-22-M-3 had caught fire in mid-air, before ploughing into the ground.
We saw flames engulf the flying plane, they added.
Eyewitnesses also say that they heard a popping sound, while the plane was flying above Khvoinoye; the Tu-22-M-3 then flew on for another 1,000 meters, or so, subsequently crashing in a nearby forest.
The Military Prosecutor's Office is examining several air-crash theories, Igor Lebed, military prosecutor of the Leningrad military district, told correspondents in the morning of July 9.
The Veliky Novgorod - Porkhov air corridor near Soltsy town had been closed pending a subsequent investigation, officials at the State Traffic Police Inspectorate's Novgorod department told RIA Novosti.
Criminal proceedings have been instituted in connection with the Tu-22-M-3 crash in the Novgorod region, RIA Novosti learned at the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office.
According to RIA Novosti's source at the Military Prosecutor's Office, criminal proceedings have been instituted in line with article 351 of the Russian Criminal Code (violating flight regulations and pre-flight regulations).
Investigators are now working at the scene, RIA Novosti's interlocutor noted.
The Tu-22-M-3 bomber's fragments are scattered over an area of one square kilometer, RIA Novosti learned today at the national Emergency Situations Ministry's Novgorod department.
Fire broke out at the scene of the crash.
Three specialized fire engines and their crews helped put out the blaze. According to RIA-Novosti's sources, the fire was extinguished completely by 0.57, Moscow time.
The Tu-22-M-3 is a modified version of the Tu-22-M bomber; Soviet designers started developing the Tu-22-M in 1967. Meanwhile batch production of the Tu-22-M-3 was mastered in 1978.
A prototype Tu-22-M-3 performed its maiden flight June 20, 1977; it was mass-produced by the Kazan aircraft production association over the 1978-1993 period. All in all, 268 Tu-22-M-3-s rolled off the assembly line.
Each Tu-22-M-3 has a maximum ordnance load of 24,000 kg.
This bomber is designed to hit visible targets, radar targets, single targets, area targets, ground and naval targets, as well as moving and stationary targets, by its air-to-surface missiles and free-fall bombs inside the enemy's strategic area of defense any time of the year and also round the clock. The Tu-22-M-3 can operate in adverse weather conditions.
The bomber's onboard equipment features avionics, a radar, an optical/remote-control bomb sight, an automatic control system and a weapons-control system, as well. All these automated components help navigate and control the plane along preset routes and in line with computer programs, also sighting and activating its weaponry.
The Tu-22-M-3's weapons are located inside its fuselage and on external stores, comprising guided air-to-surface cruise missiles, anti-radar cruise missiles, as well as bombs and mines.
A Tu-160 Blackjack supersonic swing-wing strategic bomber crashed September 18, 2003 in the Saratov region's Sovetsky district, also killing four crew members.