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‘Catastrophe in the sky’: Ukrainian fighter pilot nicknamed Juice among three killed in mid-air crash

Three Ukrainian military pilots, including a “mega talent”, were killed when two L-39 combat training aircraft collided over a region west of Kyiv, the air force has said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is relying on the swift training of crews to fly up to 61 F-16 fighter jets, said in his nightly video address on Saturday that the three men included Andriy Pilshchykov, nicknamed ‘Juice’, “a Ukrainian officer, one of those who greatly helped our state”.

He called the collision a “catastrophe in the sky”.

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Andriy Pilshchykov, nicknamed ‘Juice’, died in the training exercise. Pic: Defense of Ukraine

Air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat described Mr Pilshchykov as a “mega talent” and leader of reforms.

“You can’t even imagine how much he wanted to fly an F-16,” Mr Ihnat wrote on his Facebook page. “But now that American planes are actually on the horizon, he will not fly them.”

Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office announced a criminal investigation had been opened into whether flight preparation rules were violated following the crash on Friday.

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“It is too early to discuss details. Certainly, all circumstances will be clarified,” Mr Zelenskyy said.

The air force announced the crash on its Telegram app. “We express our condolences to the families of the victims. This is a painful and irreparable loss for all of us,” it said.

Speaking to Sky News in February, Mr Pilshchykov discussed his desire to get behind the controls of an F-16 saying: “You can be a very professional pilot, but without the proper tools, without the proper hardware, you can’t do anything to do increase your probabilities [of success]. So you need these proper tools to be really deadly.

“The F-16 is the most optimal choice of not only quality but also quantity of the available airframes in Europe and even in the other countries.

“We need to get them very quickly and they should be ready to go.”

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Mr Zelenskyy noted that the third Saturday in August is also when Ukrainian military and civilian aviation celebrate their professional day, and said the introduction of F-16s would mark a “new level” for military aviation.

“This will also bring civil aviation back to the Ukrainian skies, as it will move us closer to victory and provide Ukraine with greater security,” he said.

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Radio Svoboda shared a video of blackened, mangled aircraft remains being removed from a field far from the frontlines at the village of Sinhury, about 90 miles west of Kyiv.

In the video, an unnamed man said he heard an explosion in the air above a school building and then two planes falling in smoke and flames.

A woman described seeing two planes flying at a distance from one another then coming closer and closer to each other before the crash.

Military analyst and former pilot Roman Svitan, in an interview posted by online outlet Espreso TV, said the crash was “most likely” related to formation flying.

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He said the standard distance was 50-70 metres but that sometimes planes flew practically on top of each other at a distance of 3 to 4 metres.

He said the L-39 is an attack aircraft and training plane but that in formation flying, especially at low altitudes, “there’s no time for ejection”.

Mr Zelenskyy offered condolences to the pilots’ families and added the country “will never forget anyone who defended the free skies of Ukraine”.


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