The Sknyliv air show catastrophe happened on Saturday, July 27, 2002, at the Sknyliv airport near Lviv, Ukraine, when a Ukrainian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27 of the Ukrainian Falcons crashed during an aerobatics display. There were 77 fatalities, 543 injuries, and 100 hospitalizations. The incident involves the worst air show in history.
The Sknyliv air show, which was held to honour the 14th Air Corps of the Ukrainian Air Force’s 60th anniversary, drew more than 10,000 spectators. The two experienced pilots of a Su-27 aircraft entered a rolling manoeuvre at 12:52 p.m. with a downward trajectory at low altitude; after rolling upright again, the aircraft was still descending quickly and the left wing dropped just before it hit the ground, at which point the crew started to eject. Prior to starting to explode and cartwheel into the gathering of onlookers, the aircraft flattened down at first, skidding along the ground towards grounded aircraft, striking a glancing strike against the nose of an Il-76 cargo aircraft. Both pilots made it through with very minor wounds.
77 spectators, including 19 children, died in the incident (though initial reports put the number of dead at 85). Another 100 people required hospitalisation for burns, bone fractures, and head injuries. There were 543 persons hurt overall during the incident, some of them had less serious injuries and did not need treatment.
At low altitude, the Flanker can be seen making a type of split-S manoeuvre before accelerating down the taxiway and apron. The left wing of the aeroplane struck a tree, hit the pavement, and dragged four rows of barbed wire, mowing down witnesses. The jet then started to explode and cartwheel into the crowd after colliding with some stationary aircraft, including an Il-76MD cargo plane.
The pilots said that the airbase map they had been given was different from the actual layout they discovered at Sknyliv airfield, where they had also been denied a second rehearsal flight before the performance, after the accident.
One pilot may be heard asking, “And where are our spectators?” on the flight data recorder. Others have asserted that the pilots’ responses to flight computer’s automated warnings were slow.
Although the pilots’ deviation from the plan and “difficult manoeuvres they had not done before” were determined to be the primary causes of the crash, other factors, such as a small flying zone and improper zoning by the show’s organisers that had permitted spectators to congregate so close to the flight line, were also blamed for the tragedy.
The disaster was publicly attributed to the military, according to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who also fired Volodymyr Strelnykov, the head of the air force. Volodymyr Shkidchenko, the defence minister, submitted his resignation, but Kuchma rejected it.
A military court sentenced co-pilot Yuriy Yegorov to eight years in prison and pilot Volodymyr Toponar to fourteen on June 24, 2005. The two pilots, together with three other military personnel, were found guilty by the court of disobeying orders, being careless, and breaking flight regulations. The final official received a term of up to four years in jail, while the other two officials received sentences of up to six years. In addition, Toponar and Yegorov each had to provide the families compensation of 7.2 million hryvnia ($1.42 million; €1.18 million). The primary flight instructor for the crew was exonerated for lack of evidence.
While the majority of the blame was placed on the pilots, who were also accused of doing manoeuvres they were unprepared for, Toponar had asked for an additional training flight at the airfield where the demonstration was to be performed, but this request was turned down.
Toponar declared he will file an appeal once the decision was made, maintaining that the incident was caused by mechanical issues and a flawed flight plan.
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