The Kremlin claims to have recovered the flight recorders from Yevgeny Prigozhin’s doomed private jet, which crashed in Russia on Wednesday, presumably killing the Russian mercenary boss and nine others on board.
“The investigation seized the flight recorders, a detailed examination of the scene continues,” the Russian Investigative Committee said Friday, according to state news agency TASS. “At present, items and documentation that are important for establishing all the circumstances of the crash are also being seized, and the necessary forensic examinations will be ordered.”
Planes can be equipped with two flight recorders, often referred to as “black boxes,” that serve different purposes. Cockpit voice recorders record audio in the cockpit, and flight data recorders log an airplane’s operating conditions, like altitude, heading or direction. The Russian Investigative Committee reported having recovered multiple recorders from the flight, indicating that they have their hands on both types of black boxes.
Russian authorities also claimed to have recovered all 10 bodies from the crash site on Friday, and are working to confirm the identities of those who died through DNA testing, according to the BBC. “Molecular-genetic tests are now being carried out,” investigators were quoted as saying.
Early reports this week suggested that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile before plummeting in the northwest region of Tver in Russia. But on Thursday, Pentagon spokesperson Patrick Ryder said there is “no information to indicate” that is the case.
U.S. officials, however, do appear to agree on one thing: that the crash was no accident, but an assassination of Prigozhin.
In another bizarre twist, reports that emerged on Telegram Thursday alleged that one of the flight attendants aboard the aircraft, Kristina Raspopova, had reported “strange” repairs on the plane ahead of the scheduled flight. The 39-year-old allegedly described the ordered fixes as “incomprehensible” in phone conversations with family members, according to the VChK-OGPU Telegram.
Also aboard Prigozhin’s plane on Wednesday was 53-year-old Dmitry Utkin, another notorious Wagner commander who allegedly gave the mercenary group its name.
The plane crash came exactly two months after the Wagner leader staged a coup against the Kremlin, ordering his fighters to march on Moscow in what ultimately amounted to a failed mutiny. After a deal between Prigozhin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, thousands of Wagner recruits were relocated to Belarus, to be hosted by Putin’s leading ally, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
In the time between the mutiny and the plane crash, many experts speculated that Putin would eventually exact revenge on Prigozhin, who had been publicly criticizing the Kremlin’s strategy in Ukraine for months before ordering his fighters to take arms and storm Moscow.
On Friday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed claims that Moscow had masterminded Prigozhin’s assassination calling them “absolute” lies.
“There is now a great deal of speculation surrounding this plane crash and the tragic deaths of the plane’s passengers, including Yevgeny Prigozhin,” he said. “Of course, in the West, all this speculation is presented from a well-known angle.”
Wagner fighters who remain in Belarus, meanwhile, have already threatened to retaliate against Moscow for the death of their leader.
“There are many discussions about what Wagner would do now. “We’ll say one thing—we’re already starting off,” one fighter said in a video published on a Telegram channel associated with Prigozhin’s private army. “Expect us.”