Russian An-26 Transport Plane Crashes in Syria Killing 32 People On Board

A Russian An-26 transport aircraft has crashed while on approach to land at Khmeimim Air Base in Syria’s western Latakia governorate. Details surrounding the circumstances are still emerging, but none of the 26 passengers or six flight crew survived.

According to statements from the Russian Ministry of Defense, the crash occurred at 7:00 AM, Eastern Standard Time, or 3:00 PM local time in Moscow. The twin engine An-26 hit the ground approximately 550 yards short of the runway. 

Beyond the 32 individuals on board, it is not clear if the aircraft was carrying any cargo. We also don’t know who the passengers were and whether they were military personnel or civilian officials. In September 2017, another An-26 brought members of the press to the base.

“According to preliminary information, a technical problem could have been the cause of the crash.” the Russian Ministry of Defense said, according to state-run news outlet TASS. “According to reports from the scene, no fire was delivered against the plane.”

Though there is no information yet to suggest that this wasn’t an accident, it is important to remember that Khmeimim has come under increasing attack since the beginning of 2018, including being subject to a mass drone attack. Video and images of the base routinely appear on social media, including recent footage of a pair of Su-57 stealth fighters arriving in February 2018, indicating that individuals can get relatively close to the perimeter.

Concerns about nearby rebels being able to shoot down slow-flying aircraft reportedly led the Russians to employ fighter jets as “heat traps” to help safeguard President Vladimir Putin’s Tu-214PU presidential transport during his visit to the country in December 2017. 

Syria rebels did manage to shoot down an Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft in February 2018, reportedly using a short-range man-portable, shoulder-fired surface to air missile, commonly called MANPADS, as well. The Russians have, without supplying any evidence, accused countries opposed to the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad, such as the United States and Saudi Arabia, of directly sending these types of weapons to opposition forces or terrorist groups in the past. There’s is nothing to independently suggest this is the case, either.

This incident also comes almost three months after Putin declared total victory over terrorists in Syria and promised a major withdrawal of Russian forces from the country, which does not appear to have materialized. He may now have turned to shadowy Kremlin-linked mercenaries to try and distance the Russian government from ongoing active operations in the country, having reportedly approved a plan for those forces to lead pro-Assad militia in an assault on U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in eastern Syria. That operation prompted a devastating American counterattack that blunted the attack.

Putin is also vying for a third term as Russia’s president. The controversial, if largely predetermined poll is set for March 18, 2018.

We will update this post as more info comes available.

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Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.