On July 27, Ukrainians pay tribute to the compatriots who perished in the Sknyliv air show tragedy of 2002. On Friday, they are to honor their memory, bringing flowers and candles to the crash site at Sknyliv air field in Lviv region.
The horrific accident that occurred at the airfield in western Ukraine, took lives of 77 people; 28 of them were children.
On that day in 2002, the 14th Aviation Corps of Ukraine's Air Forces celebrated its 60th anniversary. The said air show was the key event timed to this solemn occasion. About 10,000 people gathered at the airfield to watch it.
The show included a number of aerial stunts performed by Pilot First Class Volodymyr Toponar and second pilot Yuriy Yehorov, the members of Ukrainski Sokoly (Ukrainian Hawks, - 112 International), a stunt crew of the Air Force.
At 12.52 a.m., Sukhoi Su-27 fighter pilots completed an aerial stunt improperly and lost control over the aircraft. The fighter trapped over the tree, then its wing hit the asphalt surface of the landing strip. The aircraft ran into a Sukhoi Su-17, which stood idle on the ground, hitting a navigational flashlight of Ilyushin Il-76, and, eventually, ran into a crowd of bystanders, exploding and catching fire.
The terrible crash resulted in 77 fatalities and injuries of more than 200 people. Both pilots survived, as they ejected immediately after the plane hit the ground, suffering minor injuries.
Volodymyr Shkidchenko, the-then defense minister, immediately asked for resignation; however, it was not approved, and he remained in office. The-then Air Force Commander and the commanding officer of the 14th Aviation Corps were sacked. Another three generals were arrested by the military prosecutor's office.
The investigation considered several reasons of the tragedy, including the aircraft's technical malfunction, a piloting error as well as the negligence during the planning of the flight schedule and poor organization of the air show. The latter was officially defined as one of the two reasons by the Prosecutor General's Office.
Both pilots were charged with negligence and the lack of professionalism - along with divergence from flight conditions. Neither of them pleaded guilty, pointing out that their flight maps differed from the actual landscape where the show took place. Toponar and Yehorov also said they had to perform the maneuvers that they did not practice in advance.
Eventually, the court found ten people guilty, which included the pilots and the air show organizers. All were sentenced from five to 14 years in prison. Fines and compensations for the victims' families were also ordered.
The European Court for Human Rights considered 33 cases, based on the appeals filed by the families of the deceased. In two particular cases, the citizens lost the case in favor of the government, as the authority ruled that Ukraine's Cabinet never concealed the incident and performed a due investigation. In one of the cases, the ECHR ruled that Ukraine pay 3,600 Euros to the family, as it couldn't get the due compensation from the Ukrainian government - despite the verdicts by the domestic courts.