The Deadliest Air Show Accident In History: The Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker Crash At Sknyliv

A Ukrainian Flanker crashed during a display at Sknyliv airfield, in Ukraine. The accident killed 77 people and injured 543.

The deadliest air show accident in history occurred on Jul. 27, 2002, at Sknyliv airfield near Lviv, Ukraine, when a Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker crashed during its display routine.

The two pilots, Volodymyr Toponar and Yuriy Yegorov, ejected safely but as a consequence of the crash 77 people died and 545 were injured, 100 of whom were hospitalised.

Several videos show the incident from different viewpoints.

The Flanker can be seen performing a sort of split-S at low altitude, descend rapidly towards the apron and taxiway. The aircraft’s left wing clipped a tree, struck the asphalt and dragged four rows of barbed wire that mowed down onlookers. The jet then hit some stationary aircraft, including an Il-76MD transport aircraft before beginning to explode and cartwheel into the crowd.

Following the disaster, the pilots stated that the airbase map they had received differed from the actual layout they found at Sknyliv airfield, where they had been also denied an extra rehearsal flight before the show. Although the root cause of the crash was found into the pilots violating the plan and performing “difficult maneuvers they had not done before”, other factors, including a small flying zone and inappropriate zoning by the show organizers who had allowed spectators to gather so close to the flight line were blamed for the tragedy.

On Jun. 24 2005, a military court sentenced pilot Volodymyr Toponar (who has always claimed the crash was due to technical problems and a faulty flight plan) and co-pilot Yuriy Yegorov to 14 and 8 years in prison, respectively. Yegorov was released in 2008.

Here’s a video of the crash and aftermath. Beware, it’s graphic content.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.