A supersonic Russian Tu-22M3 bomber crashed in a fireball while attempting to land in a blizzard in the Arctic today.
Three crew members were killed following the incident which has left another in a “grave condition” in hospital.
Witnesses said the twin-engine strategic long-range bomber exploded in flames as it “broke apart” at an air base in Murmansk region in far northern Russia.
Emergency services extinguished a major fire at the scene, say reports.
“A Tu-22M3 plane made a hard landing after a training flight, due to a snow flurry,” said a defence ministry source.
Initial reports said two crew members were killed and two survived.
Later Ren TV and Vesti TV reported one of the wounded men – the flight commander – had also died.
The crash was at Olenya air base, near Olenegrosk, on the Kola Peninsula some 57 miles south of Murmansk city.
Aviation expert Vadim Lukashevich believed that the crash was likely caused by a vertical wind gust that suddenly hit the plane before touchdown, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
The Tupolev bomber – an aircraft in service since the Soviet era – can strike targets 4,350 miles from base.
It has a crew of four.
Military investigators have started the crash probe.
A Tu-22M3 crashed in summer 2004 when a plane crashed in Novgorod region killing all the 4 crew members on board.
The accident comes less than a week after two Su-34 bombers collided in the Russian Far East during a scheduled training exercise last Friday.
Only one of the four crew members was rescued.