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Plane data gives insight to Prigozhin’s possible “final moments of flight”

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Flight-tracking data collected of the plane that was rumored to have been carrying Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin when it crashed Wednesday shows the vessel taking a “dramatic descent” in its final moments.

Prigozhin has been reported as one of the 10 passengers killed in the incident involving an Embraer Legacy 600 that crashed near the city of Tver after taking off northwest from Moscow. The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency also confirmed that Prigozhin was aboard the plane when it crashed, reported CNN. A channel on Telegram that is associated with the Wagner Group has accused Russian air defense of shooting down the plane.

According to FlightRadar24, a Swedish site that provides real-time aircraft tracking, the Legacy 600 involved in the crash stopped transmitting information about its position at about 6:11 p.m. local time. However, the site was able to collect other data such as altitude, speed and vertical rate, which “provides some insight into the final moments of the flight,” read a blog post from FlightRadar24.

Plane Data Gives Insight to Prigozhin's 'FinalMomentsofFlight'
Law enforcement officers block the road near the site of a plane crash near the city of Tver in the early morning hours on August 24, 2023. Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has reportedly died after his private plane crashed northwest of Moscow Wednesday.
Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty

At approximately 6:10 p.m. local, time, the plane, which was registered under the number RA-02795, began leveling off at 28,000 feet. The aircraft then continued at a consistent speed for several minutes before its vertical rate began to decrease “dramatically,” FlightRadar24 reported. In its final minutes, the aircraft also made variable climbs and descends in its flight, and at one point jumped above 30,000 feet before descending again.

Just before the final data was received at 6:20 p.m., the plane descended at roughly 8,000 feet per minute, read the report.

A previous ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prigozhin’s relationship between his private mercenary group and Kremlin leadership began to severe earlier this year over issues in the Wagner Group’s involvement in the Ukraine war. In June, tensions came to a head when Prigozhin led his troops on a 24-hour charge toward Moscow, which ultimately ended with a truce deal that included Prigozhin’s exile to Belarus.

Some have speculated whether Prigozhin was even on the plane that crashed Wednesday. A second aircraft that belonged to the Wagner chief was also flying in Russia at the time of the crash and reportedly landed safely at an airport near Moscow.

If reports of Prigozhin’s death are true, it will likely cause additional turmoil for Putin, who is bound to face “revenge” attempts from Wagner mercenaries, said Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs.

“Calls for revenge against the killers fill the chat rooms of Prigozhin’s channels. Law enforcers of two regions have been raised on alert,” Gerashchenko wrote on X, the platform formerly Twitter.

Former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officer Rebekah Koffler noted, however, during a phone call with Newsweek Wednesday that Prigozhin’s death “makes Putin look stronger with the Russian people.”

“If Prigozhin is indeed dead, everybody would understand that this is a payback for insubordination, for criticizing the Russian military, and it was sending a signal to any potential opposition that Putin will chase you down and eliminate you no matter where you are—whether you’re in Africa or wherever,” she added.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.

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