Deadliest air show disaster in history killed 77 – but both pilots survived

It has been 19 years since the deadliest air show in the history of aviation – a tragic event that reminded watchers around the world of the dangers of flying.

The awful accident at the Sknyliv Aviation Show in Ukraine killed 77 people, including 28 children, as well as injuring another 543, of which 100 required hospitalisation for burns, head injuries and bone fractures.

Of the many terrifying photos which document that tragic day, one shows brothers in the direct aftermath of losing their mother – who had protected one son from the lethal accident by covering him with her body.

Natalia Kornylchenko, another witness to the crash said: "We stood facing it all and saw the plane clipping the trees. First it cut people and then it burned them.

"We were lucky I guess. On that lane my sister and I were the only ones to survive."

At odds with the loss of life that the crash landing caused, both pilots managed to exit the plane with their health and relatively few injuries.

In numerous videos, as the windscreen of the Ukrainian Air Force Flanker comes off, both pilots can be seen ejecting from the plane as the aircraft ploughs into the crowd dense with visitors.

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Prior to the plane's crash, pilots Volodymyr Toponar and Yuriy Yegorov, were performing a rolling manoeuvre at a low altitude.

The botched execution of the move known as an S-split saw the aircraft descend rapidly, clipping a tree before striking the tarmac and dragging four rows of barbed wire that mowed through onlookers.

The twin-engined plane then burrowed into the stands and exploded in flames, sending debris sailing into a crowd of thousands who were watching the fly-by.

Pilots Toponar and Yegorov were sentenced to prison terms of 14 and 8 years respectively, though Yegorov was released early.

In addition, Toponar was sentenced to pay an eye-watering 7.2 million Ukrainian Hryvnia ( £1.2m) that would go toward the families affected by the events.

The Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piksun spoke of the "careless treatment of responsibilities by officials" but ultimately placed blame with the pilots who had reportedly "used this vehicle incorrectly."

Toponar reported that he had asked for more training before attempting the manoeuvre believed to be too advanced for the pilots' levels, but his request was denied.

And though the two pilots argued that they had been given a flight map which had differed from Skynliv Airfield, they were found guilty of failing to follow orders, negligence and violating flight rules.

However, the accusations of negligence did not stop there.

The then-Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma publically blamed the military for the disaster and dismissed the head of the air force, General Viktor Strelnykov.

The court also found that three military officials had also shown negligence and were sentenced up to six years in prison.

Many who were affected by disaster return to the airfield on this day to remember loved ones and support those who lost family and friends.

Halyna Hladka, who lost her mother in the accident, said she has forgiven those responsible for the crash but stated: "The Sknyliv tragedy is an alarm bell for Ukraine and for society.

"One should always have a proper attitude for their work because at some point, somewhere, people's lives will depend on you."

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