The miracle lone survivor of a plane crash that killed 26 felt he was “in a computer game” as the jet went down and exploded in a fireball.
An Antonov An-26 aircraft, belonging to Ukraine’s air force, crashed one mile short of its airfield near Kharkiv, just minutes after the crew commander asked to land due to an engine failure.
Cadet Vyacheslav Zolochevskyi, who survived the crash and explosion by leaping from the plane, looked round to see his friend covered in flames and tried to put out the inferno.
Head of Kharkiv administration Oleksiy Kucher, who spoke to the cadet in hospital, said: “He said it was like a computer game, that when he got to his feet, he saw his friend burning.
“And he was actually helping to put out the flames on this guy who was also brought into hospital.”
The cadet he tried to save, Nikolai Mikitchenko, has since died.
Kucher said the lone survivor, aged in his early 20s, “doesn’t remember everything” as he lost consciousness at some point during Friday night’s disaster.
The military transport plane carrying air force cadets crashed and burst into flames near a highway in north-eastern Ukraine.
Kucher added: “After he came round he began to put out the flames on his colleague.
“He survived while being inside the plane. But physically he is in a satisfactory state.”
Zolochevskyi’s mother, Irina Zolochevskaya, told how she feared he had died.
She said: “He is alive. He jumped [out of the plane], he managed to survive.
“When I heard about the catastrophe, and read it was training flights for cadets, I didn’t know what to do.
“I was afraid that my son was gone too.”
Military doctor Eduard Khorshun said: “His condition is medium grave.
“There is no threat to life, his condition is stable.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday the causes of a military plane crash which killed 26 people would be investigated promptly and impartially.
The State Emergency Service of Ukraine said 27 people had been on board the plane – seven crew members and 20 students.
Zelenskiy wrote on Facebook : “Yesterday, as a result of a terrible tragedy… Ukraine lost 26 of its worthy sons.
“I insist that the causes of this plane crash be promptly clarified and that the investigation be objective and impartial.”
He declared Saturday a day of mourning.
The Antonov An-26 aircraft crashed while trying to land during a training exercise, Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said, adding that the black boxes with flight data had been found.
Ukrainian authorities said they were investigating four possible causes of the crash — a technical malfunction involving the aircraft; improper performance by the crew; improper performance by flight control; and inadequate maintenance.
The State Security Service, a Ukrainian law enforcement agency, said the plane crashed five minutes after the crew commander asked to land after the left engine of the twin-engined plane failed.
“According to the preliminary information, the cadets did not directly control the aircraft – all flights were performed by the crew commander,” the State Security Service said in a statement.
The cadets were from the Kharkiv University of the Air Force, which is run by the defence ministry.
The government said training flights on similar types of aircraft had been suspended.