Police stand guard at a checkpoint on a road near the accident scene following the crash of a private jet linked to Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in the Tver region, Russia, August 24, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Moscow: An Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet, believed to have carried Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin to his death on Wednesday, showed no sign of problem until a precipitous drop in its final 30 seconds, according to flight-tracking data.

Rosaviatsia, Russia's aviation agency said Prigozhin, who led an aborted mutiny in June, was one of 10 people on board the downed plane. It was traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg when it crashed near the village of Kuzhenkino in the Tver Region, Russia's emergency situations ministry said.

At 3:19 p.m. GMT, the aircraft made a sudden downward vertical" said Ian Petchenik of Flightradar24. Within about 30 seconds, the aircraft had plummeted more than 8,000 feet from its cruising altitude of 28,000 feet.

Whatever happened, happened quickly" Petchenik said.

They may have been wrestling (with the aircraft) after whatever happened," Petchenik said. But prior to its dramatic drop, there was "no indication that there was anything wrong with this aircraft." Video showed the plane descending rapidly with its nose pointing almost straight downward and a plume of smoke or vapor behind it.

Russian investigators opened a criminal probe to determine what happened. 

Brazilian planemaker Embraer SA said it had not been providing any service or support in recent years to the plane, which seats around 13.

The company said in a statement it has complied with international sanctions imposed against Russia. The luxury jet was identified on Flightradar24 with registration RA-02795, the same as the plane that carried Prigozhin to Belarus after the mutiny, an industry source familiar with the matter said.

Online flight tracker Flightradar24 last recorded the position of the aircraft at 3:11 p.m. GMT, before the crash.

Jamming or interference in the area probably slowed the collection of further location data.

Other data continued for nine minutes. Flightradar24 said the jet went thorough a series of ascents and descents of a few thousand feet each over 30 seconds before its final, disastrous plunge. Flightradar24 received its final data on the jet at 3:20 p.m.

The jet had good safety record

The Embraer executive jet model that crashed has only recorded one accident in over 20 years of service, and that was not related to mechanical failure.

Embraer said it was aware of a plane crash in Russia involving a Legacy 600 aircraft, but it did not have further information about the case and had not been providing support services for the jet since 2019.

The Legacy 600 entered service in 2002, according to International Aviation HQ, with almost 300 produced until production ceased in 2020.

There is only one recorded accident involving a Legacy 600, according to International Aviation HQ, which occurred in 2006 when it crashed mid-air into a Gol Boeing 737-800 on its way from the Embraer factory in Brazil to the United States.

Despite damage to the aircraft, the pilot landed the Embraer plane and there were no deaths or injuries. The Boeing commercial airliner was downed and all 154 passengers killed.

Two years later, a Brazilian air force report blamed two US pilots, traffic controllers and faulty communications for the mid-air collision.

At the time, a lawyer for the pilots said individual air traffic controllers and flaws in Brazil's air traffic control system caused the accident.