Ukraine plane crash: First pictures of 26 victims killed in air cadet flight ‘fireball’

The first pictures have emerged of the tragic air force cadets killed in a Ukrainian plane crash when their military aircraft exploded into a fireball.

Emotional tributes were paid to the 26 “loved and respected” Ukrainian cadets and their instructors who perished in the fireball when their plane crashed on a training flight in Kharkiv.

A faulty engine is suspected as the cause of the horrific accident involving an Antonov An-26 military aircraft.

Massive flames engulfed the crash scene close to a highway in Kharkiv region.

Only one survivor was reported this morning from the elite Kharkiv National Air Force University students on board the flight.

Pictures have now emerged of some of those lost in the air horror as grief-stricken classmates posted how the cadets died doing what they loved most – flying.

Sergei Voronenko, 21, wrote: “This event is simply the most impossible and awful thing that could have happened.

“Each [of them] loved what killed him. How unfair it is.”

The plane was around a mile from Chuhuiv military air base when it crashed, around 60 miles from the front line where government forces are fighting pro-Russian rebels.

The pilot had radioed that he had trouble in one engine.

On board were 20 students, believed to be in their early 20s, and seven officers.

A day of mourning was declared over a crash that wiped out much of a generation of Ukraine’s young military airmen.

In his tribute, Voronenko posted: “We have been through a lot, but only your smiles will remain in our memories.

“You were loved and respected, you were role models. Too many worthy people have passed away on this awful evening, too many.

“I just want to fall asleep on this sleepless night, then wake up and believe that this is just a bad dream that will never happen again.

“Commander of the 151st group Roman Korchovskyi, cadet of the 151st group Vladimir Olabin, cadet of the 153th group Evgenyi Skorobogatko, and all the other cadets and officers in this terrible plane crash, to all a bright and eternal memory.”

Voronenko also told of his grief for classmate Andrei Rospotnyuk.

He said: “I just don’t believe it, because just a month ago I was happy to hear you on the phone congratulating you on your birthday.

“And now I find out that you and our boys are gone.

“What a merciless fate, taking away such wonderful people.

“Those who knew Andrei will agree that this man had an insanely kind heart.

“A man who was loyal to his friends, his principles, his girlfriend. What a shame that your great desires did not come true.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the crash as a “terrible tragedy.”

Governor of Kharkiv region Alexei Kucher claimed the pilot had reported a failed engine ahead of the crash.

Speaking to a Ukraine-24 TV channel, he said: “The tragedy was possibly caused by a faulty plane engine.

“There was a warning from the pilot that the left engine had failed.

“But, on the other hand, sometimes one engine is deliberately switched off during trials to practice.

“Therefore, this situation is not critical for an experienced pilot. We will find out what happened next.”

Flight recorders have been found.

A defence spokesperson said: “They survived, and they have not yet been recovered from the aircraft.”

Among those named as dead were Roman Korchovskyi, Maxim Khomyachyuk, Andrei Pomerantsev, Artyom Dudla, Bogdan Matvyichyuk, Vitalyi Vilkhovoi, Ashraf Msuya, Alexei Ostapenko, Andrei Rospotnyuk, Evgenyi Skorobogatko, and Vladimir Olabin.