There is growing speculation that an on-board explosion caused the Embraer business jet to crash soon after take-off from Moscow killing Wagner Private Military Company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Some reports said a female passenger, unknown to him, was carrying an explosive in her briefcase planted by the Russian secret service.
The Associated Press said its frame-by-frame analysis of two online videos showing the jet’s freefall appeared “consistent with some sort of explosion mid-flight.”
Few other media reports claimed the jet was shot down by anti-aircraft missiles over Tver region.
Prigozhin led the June 23-24 rebellion to topple Russia’s military leadership. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the coup plotters would “inevitably be punished.”
A deal was later struck with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to relocate Wagner mercenaries to Belarus following the mutiny.
Videos being widely circulated on social media showed Prigozhin’s Embraer Legacy 600 private jet in free fall spinning to the ground with a trail of light smoke behind it. Upon hitting the ground nose-first, the fuselage caught fire and started billowing dark smoke into the air.
However, the Kremlin has dismissed these reports as “absolute lies” and urged the media to await the results of an official investigation.
Investigators are looking into the possibility of an on-board explosive device while they continue searching for the jet’s black box.
The 112 Telegram channel, which has links to Russia’s security services, reported that investigators were seeking to interview everybody who had access to the hangar where the aircraft was stored before the flight. The jet had been under repair for 10 days before Wednesday’s flight, Russian media reported.