On the evening of October 17, 2022, a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber crashed into a residential building in the city of Yeysk, on the coast of the Sea of Azov.
The aircraft had just taken off for a training flight from a nearby military base and was climbing when it suffered an engine malfunction, according to reports from the news agency TASS citing the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Unconfirmed footage and pictures shared on social media show a large fireball, consistent with the tons of fuel the fighter must have carried upon takeoff. The Su-34 has an internal fuel capacity of over 11 tons.
“The plane’s fuel caught fire after the Su-34 crashed into the courtyard of a residential building,” the ministry said.
The two pilots managed to eject. The crash caused the upper levels of the apartment building to collapse, and the ensuing fire spread to 17 apartments on five different floors.
“Rescuers have completed clearing the debris,” the Russian Emergencies Ministry told local news agencies on the morning of October 18, 2022. “Ten bodies were found during rescue activities, which brings the total number of deaths to 13 people, including three children.”
In total, 68 residents were evacuated, including 19 with injuries.
Where did the fighter take off from?
The fighter most likely took off from the nearby Yeysk Airport. A mixed military-civilian infrastructure, it houses elements of the Russian Naval Aviation, including a training center.
Developed in the 1980s, the Sukhoi Su-34 ‘Fullback’ is a fighter-bomber capable of conducting strike missions on air, sea, and ground targets. It is operated by a crew of two people sitting side-by-side.
Given that the Russian Navy does not use the Su-34, and that none were officially based there before the beginning of the war, it is likely that Yeysk Air Base is now being used as a staging ground for bombardments in eastern Ukraine. Yeysk is located 65 kilometers southeast of Mariupol, across the Taganrog Gulf.
The crashed aircraft reportedly belonged to the 277th Bombing Aviation Regiment, local media Vedomosti said, citing sources close to the Defense Ministry. The regiment is based at Khurba airfield near Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in the Russian Far East.
Su-34s have been the workhorse of the Russian Aerospace Forces during the conflict, flying bombing missions from bases bordering Ukraine, such as the ones in Morozovsk and Malshevo. Consequently, they sustained heavy casualties.
According to the Oryx blog, which documents the visually confirmed loss of equipment during the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, this marks the 17th destruction of a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber in this conflict, only second in losses to the Su-25 close air support aircraft.
In April 2022, Ukrainian volunteers turned the wreckage of a downed Su-34 into key rings, selling them in a bid to raise money for their armed forces.
UPDATE 18-10-2022, 11:10 (UTC +3): This article was updated with information from the Russian Emergencies Ministry