On December 6, 1997, a giant cargo aircraft AN-124 of the Russian Air Force crashed into the city of Irkutsk, striking an apartment complex. The crash look place shortly after take-off from the Irkutsk Aviation Factory’s airstrip. On board as cargo were two Sukhoi SU-27 fighter jets produced at a local military aircraft factory and bound for Vietnam.
The plane had been airborne less than half a minute when the first and third engines shutdown, then the same thing happened to the second engine. The crew informed the dispatcher about the failure but then the connection broke.
According to eyewitnesses, the crew did everything possible to prevent the plane hitting the high-rise houses. The pilots tried to reach a wide street or the wasteland. They managed to avoid some taller blocks but then the AN-124 tilted to the left and plummeted, hitting the residential complex.
The aircraft, which has one of the biggest wingspans of any plane in the world, crushed a five-storey building and significantly damaged other houses, also striking an orphanage close by.
Instantly, the 140 tons of aviation fuel that the plane was carrying poured over the ground and ignited. Witnesses said the fire instantly ravaged other apartment houses and stores.
Luckily it was sleep-hour in the orphanage and all the children were inside instead of in the playground. Nannies and residents began evacuating the children before the fire spread to the building.
The first fire trucks and rescuers arrived at the scene a few minutes after the accident and began pulling people out of the debris. There were no survivors among the crew and passengers. The tragedy claimed the lives of 72 people, including 14 children, and left more than 70 families homeless.
The Federal Government appointed a commission, led by the Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoig, to investigate the catastrophe. The airborne recorders, which would have revealed the crew's last conversation, did not survive – both were in the epicenter of the fire and were badly damaged.
The commission did not come to an unequivocal opinion regarding the engine failure. Implementing a control objective and experiments could not determine the true reason behind the accident. However, experts have repeatedly stressed the construction defects of the Ukrainian-made D-18 engines installed in the doomed AN-124 aircraft.
The tragedy was one of the worst air disasters in Russia's history and shocked the entire nation. After some time, a church was built on the site of the houses destroyed by the disaster. The first service was dedicated to the memory of the victims.