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Russian Military Transport Crashes In Syria, Killing All 39 Aboard

Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET

A Russian military transport plane crashed as it was on landing approach at an air base in western Syria on Tuesday, killing all 39 people aboard, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The twin-engine Antonov An-26 transport crashed at the Hemeimeem Air Base in Latakia province and initial reports indicated a likely mechanical failure, the ministry said.

The Moscow Times reports that there were 33 passengers and six crew aboard. The transport crashed just 1,600 feet short of the runway, according to Reuters.

Initially Russian news agencies had reported that a total of 32 were aboard the transport before later raising the death toll.

"All of them were members of the Russian Armed Forces," Interfax news agency quoted the Russian defense ministry as saying. "The crew and the passengers were killed."

Reuters writes:

"Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, leases the Hemeimeem military base in Syria, near the Mediterranean coast.

The base is far from the front lines of the conflict, but came under shelling in December. The Russian military insisted the cargo plane did not come under fire, while saying it would conduct a full investigation."

As The Moscow Times notes, "Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is running for re-election later this month, ordered 'a significant part' of Moscow's military contingent there to start withdrawing in December, declaring their work largely done. But casualties continue to mount."

Last month, a Russian Su-25 ground attack jet was shot down by a portable anti-aircraft missile over northern Idlib province. The pilot reportedly ejected over an area controlled by militants.

The Soviet-era An-26 is a mainstay of Russian military operations but the aging aircraft has been out of production since the mid-1980s.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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