July 27, 2002: Ukraine Air Show Disaster (Worst Air Show Tragedy in History)

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A Brief History

On July 27, 2002, a Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 fighter jet crashed into a crowd of spectators, killing 77 and injuring 534, the worst air show disaster ever.  The crowd was watching a demonstration by the Ukrainian Falcons, the Ukraine acrobatic military flight team, at Sknyliv airfield (near Lviv).  The jet being flown was the Sukhoi Su-27, a modern, cutting edge fighter jet, roughly equivalent to the US F-15.  It is a 2 seat plane, with experienced pilots flying at the air show.

Digging Deeper

In what was later ruled to be pilot error, the fighter got too low and a wing touched the ground, causing the loss of control.  The pilots quickly ejected from the doomed jet, which skidded and cart wheeled across the field, glancing against a large transport jet and into the crowd, blowing up and burning.

Of the 77 people killed, 19 were identified as children.  Of the 534 injured, 100 required hospitalization.  This massive carnage on top of the loss of an expensive jet and damage to the cargo plane was not taken lightly by Ukrainian officials.  The head of the Air Force was fired, and the defense minister resigned, but his resignation was not accepted.  The pilots were put on trial and convicted in 2005, receiving sentences of 14 and 8 years in jail.  An additional 3 military officials were also jailed, and the pilots were ordered to pay massive fines for compensation to the victims.

The pilots had argued that they had received improper maps of the demonstration area and had requested practice at the actual site, but were denied.  Voice recorders of the pilots seem to support their allegation that their flight plan was faulty, but of course, if politicians want scapegoats they will get them.

Question for students (and subscribers): Will this sort of disaster keep you from attending an air show?  Should air shows with dangerous maneuvers be banned? Let us know what you think in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more on this general subject, please read…

Waterkeyn, Xavier.  Air Disasters of the World.  New Holland Publishers, 2014.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Alexei Shevelev of the damaged IL-76MD, is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.  A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.