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4 held over worst air show crash

A relative of a crash victim outside the morgue in Lviv  

LVIV, Ukraine (CNN) -- Four military officials have been detained in the Ukraine amid allegations errors in preparing for an air display contributed to the deaths of 83 people in the world's worst air show crash.

More than 115 people were also injured when a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 warplane clipped the ground during a display at the Skniliv airfield in the western city of Lviv, cartwheeled into the crowd, and exploded in a huge fireball on Saturday.

Ukraine's prosecutor general detained the former commander of the country's airforce on Sunday, a day after he was sacked by President Leonid Kuchma.

Officials said Volodymyr Strelnykov was detained after an investigation found that there were "serious errors in organising, preparing and conducting flights, in particular organising demonstration flights in Lviv" the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.

The jet was performing an intricate air manoeuvre when it went down (July 27)

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Footage of the deadly airshow crash (July 27)

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Three other top military officials have also been held.

Just a day after the incident, a second Russian aircraft, an Ilyushin Il-86, crashed on take-off from Moscow's biggest airport, killing at least 14 people. (Full story)

The Ukraine is mourning those who died, which included nineteen children. (Full story)

Air show spectators could only stare in shock as debris was scattered across the tarmac and surrounding grassland. (Eyewitness)

Bunches of flowers have been laid at the entrance to the air show.

Kuchma immediately sacked Ukraine's air force chief and the head of armed forces' general staff, Petro Shulyak, who was said to be acting as defence minister at the time of the crash, was also forced out.

"The guilty must be brought to justice, on this point there is no doubt," Kuchma told local television, adding he wanted a ban on future military airshows.

Evhem Marchuk, secretary of Ukraine's defence and security council and head of the state commission into the accident, told Reuters news agency investigators were analysing the flight recorder retrieved from the twin-engined fighter, which fell from the sky after failing to complete a tricky aerobatics manoeuvre.

He said it was getting increasingly hard to identify the bodies, many ripped apart by metal shards from the plane which were flung across the Sknyliv military air field, on the outskirts of this picturesque city.

Hundreds of tearful relatives have been waiting anxiously outside an overcrowded morgue, as forensic officials strive to identify victims' mangled remains.

Volodymyr Bukhach, 35, wept as he stood waiting for news from the morgue, unsure whether his wife was alive.

Accompanied by five friends, he told The Associated Press his two children, aged 6 and 10, had survived, but that he could not find his wife.

"We called (Saturday), we went looking at the hospitals, but we couldn't find her," Bukhach said. "We couldn't find her and got no information."

Olha Dudchenko, standing outside the morgue holding photos of her 7-year-old daughter Mariana, whom she identified Sunday morning, told AP: "I can think of nothing that can relieve my grief."

The daughter and her husband, Serhiy, a doctor, had gone to the airfield to listen to a children's choir, where Mariana's friend performed, when they were killed by the cartwheeling wreckage of the jet.

U.S. President George W. Bush has expressed condolences about the plane crash in a letter to Kuchma, his spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska told AP.

Similar letters were received from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac, she said.

Pope John Paul II, has sent a condolence message offering prayers for victims and his spiritual closeness for survivors in Lviv, which he visited last year in a pilgrimage.

Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin pledged Russian financial support to crash victims' families, according to the Interfax news agency.

Spanish and Polish authorities have proposed medical assistance to aid the injured and blood reserves from the capital Kiev were sent to Lviv.

The air show had been marking the 60th anniversary of a local unit of the Ukrainian Air Force.

The crash was the world's worst air show disaster, eclipsing the 70 killed in 1988 when three Italian jets collided, sending one into a crowd at the U.S. Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany. (More crashes)

The reputation of Ukraine's armed forces, cash-strapped since the Soviet Union's collapse a decade ago, was blackened last October when a missile fired during a training exercise hit a Russian airliner, killing all 78 people aboard.

The Su-27 amazed audiences at its first appearances at Western airshows in the 1990s with aerobatic manoeuvres previously unknown for a twin-engined jet aircraft of its size. (More)


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