Fighter jet crash leaves 78 dead at Ukraine air show

138 spectators are injured

2 crewmen eject to safety


MOSCOW - A Ukrainian fighter jet, swooping low in the middle of an aerobatic stunt, crashed into a large crowd at an air show near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv yesterday, killing at least 78 spectators on the ground.

The jet, a Russian-built Sukhoi Su-27, appeared to lose control as it rolled and then banked as it approached the Sknyliv airfield. It clipped a strand of trees before skidding in flames across tarmac and into the crowd, according to officials and television film of the crash.

The death toll climbed through the day, and officials said last night that it could rise still higher as dozens of injured spectators were treated at hospitals in Lviv. At least 138 were injured, many of them critically.

Many of the spectators were killed or injured by debris and burning fuel that sprayed across the airfield as the jet skidded, breaking into pieces and bursting into flames.

The jet's two crew members, colonels in the Ukrainian air force, ejected to safety seconds before the jet's left wing clipped the ground. Television reports showed their seats hurtling through the air. One pilot landed several hundred yards from the jet's burning wreckage, his parachute wrapped around a pole.

President Leonid D. Kuchma cut short a vacation on the Crimean coast, arriving last night in Lviv, not far from the Polish border. The air show was meant to be a celebration of the Ukrainian air force's 14th Aviation Corps, which was established 60 years ago, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

Yesterday's crash was one of the worst air show disasters in history. In 1988, 70 people were killed and hundreds were injured when three Italian air force jets collided in midair, and one plowed into a crowd at an air show at the American Air Force base at Ramstein, Germany.

The crash occurred just before 1 p.m. on a clear, nearly cloudless day. According to reports from the air show, the jet had taken off only moments before it crashed. Witnesses said the jet appeared to lose power as it swooped low and approached.

In the chaos, spectators used the public address system to call out the names of relatives and friends who were missing.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry announced that a commission would be formed to investigate the cause of the crash.

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