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Monday October 4 marks 20 years since a series of horrifying mistakes ended with a plane being shot from the sky – with all 78 people onboard dying in the crash.
Just a month after the devastating September 11 attacks, a Tupolev Tu-154 airliner carrying 66 passengers from Israeli capital Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk, in Russia, was brought down by a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile.
Initially, Russian officials dismissed reports that Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 was brought down by a Ukrainian S-200 missile as "unworthy of attention,” and insisted that the crash was an act of terrorism.
The aircraft crashed into the Black Sea at around 9:45 am on October 4 2001, with the loss of all 66 passengers and 12 crew.
At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters that the plane might have been brought down by terrorists.
"The weapons that were being used during this exercise could not reach the area where our Tu-154 was flying," Mr Putin said.
Another theory offered for the crash at the time was that the plane had simply suffered mechanical failure.
But 20 years on, experts now accept that the Soviet-built airliner was destroyed after two missiles were simultaneously fired at a pilotless target drone and the second weapon locked onto Flight 1812.
The Ukrainian defence ministry said the missiles had "self-destruction mechanisms in case they deviated from their course."
Black box cockpit recordings show pilots' last heartbreaking moments on doomed planes
But one 35 ft-long S-200 surface-to-air missile carried a 478lb payload of some 37,000 steel pellets. It exploded some 50 ft above the aircraft, shredding control systems and causing catastrophic damage.
Air traffic controllers heard the Tupolev’s pilot desperately asking “Where are we hit?” as his controls went dead.
The plane slammed into the Black Sea 115 miles south of the Russian city of Sochi.
Flight 1812 was an “ideal” target according to Eduard D. Baltin, a former commander of the Black Sea Fleet:”With such a high target, even a weak signal is enough for the rocket to home in,’' he said.
''The conditions are ideal… an altitude of 11 kilometres [36,000 feet] a large target going at a constant speed in a constant direction," he explained.
Ukrainian Defence ministry spokesman Konstantin Khivrenko insisted that "neither the direction nor the range (of the missiles) corresponded to the practical or theoretical point at which the plane exploded."
Despite repeated denials from the Ukrainian authorities, crash investigators found mounting evidence that the plane had been brought down by a missile: ''The metal parts found in the plane and a few of the bodies closely resemble, in shape and weight, the shrapnel [from] the S-200 missile,'' said investigator Yevgeny Shaposhnikov.
''Ukraine's evidence that all missiles fired during the training either hit their targets or self-destructed is not convincing," he added.
Most of the downed airliner’s passengers were Israelis visiting relatives in Russia and a national day of mourning was instituted in Israel with a moment of silence, flags at half-mast and schools teaching special lessons on the tragedy.
After the true cause of the tragedy was established, Ukraine agreed to compensate the families of the victims with payments of $200,000 (just under £150,000).
- Vladimir Putin
- September 11
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