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Ukraine mourns airshow dead

A relative of a crash victim outside the morgue in Lviv  

LVIV, Ukraine (CNN) -- Ukrainians laid flowers and gathered in churches on Sunday to mourn the 83 people killed in the world's worst air show disaster.

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.

More than 115 people were injured. Nineteen of the dead were children.

Dozens of bunches of flowers lay at the entrance to the air show, left in tribute to those who died.

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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Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma vowed to punish those responsible for Saturday's crash. He immediately sacked Ukraine's air force chief and launched an investigation to be led by top officials.

"This is a terrible tragedy. No words can describe it. It's like a bad dream," he said, speaking at the scene.

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

The military prosecutor's office for western Ukraine opened a criminal investigation into the crash and the government earmarked 10 million hryvnias ($1.8 million) to help victims' families.

Local media blamed the tragedy on engine failure and eyewitnesses said the engine went quiet before plunging to the ground.

A government spokesman said the Sukhoi may have hit or nicked another plane before hitting the ground, the jet may have skimmed treetops.

But Kuchma said it was too early to apportion blame.

Investigators are continuing their analysis of the flight recorder retrieved from the wrecked fighter jet,

The two experienced pilots ejected just seconds before the plane began to somersault and both were being treated in hospital, local officials said.

Russian television showed one of the pilots standing, supported by another person, next to his abandoned parachute and flight helmet, as he surveyed the carnage.

Screaming children wandered alone and bodies scythed down by debris were scattered on the tarmac and surrounding grassland.

Small boys, their faces covered in blood and dirt, waited near the organisers' podium as anguished staff appealed over loudspeakers for parents to claim their children. (Eyewitness)

The air show was 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)

A former military adviser to Kuchma blamed inadequate safety measures for the high loss of life.

"The main problem was the lack of adequate safety precautions on the ground that could have helped the pilots manoeuvre away from crowds in an emergency," Vadim Hrechaninov was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine. (More on safety)

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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