Two Russian air force fighters rehearsing acrobatic maneuvers collided on Sunday near Moscow, killing one pilot and sending the jets crashing into nearby vacation homes, a military official said.
The Su-27 fighters were members of the elite Russian Knights flying group preparing to perform at the MAKS-2009 air show _ the largest and most important exhibition for Russia's aerospace industry.
Air force spokesman Lt. Col. Vladimir Drik said the jets collided near Zhukovsky airfield, east of Moscow, where the air show opens Tuesday.
Drik said three pilots ejected from the jets after the collision. He said rescuers found two in satisfactory condition but the third was killed.
The Kremlin identified the dead pilot as the Russian Knights' commander, Col. Igor Tkachenko, a decorated air force officer. The two jets crashed into a row of houses near the airfield, setting three ablaze and scattering debris over a wide area. The RIA-Novosti news agency said one woman was seriously injured and up to four other people on the ground may have also been injured. In recent years, Russian air force jets have suffered a series of mishaps, many blamed on the aging condition of Soviet-era planes. Earlier this year, officials grounded the air force's entire fleet of Su-24s after two crashes in three days.
Two crashes of MiG-29 jets in 2008 let to the grounding of that entire model as well. A subsequent investigation demonstrated that a large number had become unsafe to fly and they were scrapped. In an unrelated incident, Russian news agencies said a Yak-52 light plane crashed Sunday in the Kaluga region, south of Moscow, killing two people aboard.