A giant Russian military plane exploded in a fireball as it took off from a remote airbase carrying a mystery cargo.
The 164ft Il-76 plane was on the runway when an engine erupted in flames, according to reports.
The aircraft rolled off the runway as the inferno spread, with dramatic video from the scene showing the 72-tonne jet engulfed in flames.
The crew and any passengers escaped before the blaze gripped the hulking military transporter, said reports.
There are believed to have been eight on board moving an unspecified military cargo.
The 164ft Il-76 plane was on the runway when an engine erupted in flames, according to reports
The aircraft rolled off the runway as the inferno spread, with dramatic video from the scene showing the 72-tonne jet engulfed in flames (file photo)
Footage showed the burning Russian defence ministry aircraft at Ayni airbase near capital Dushanbe in ex-Soviet republic Tajikistan. It is also known as Gissar air base.
The plane’s registration number was initially not disclosed, according to Telegram channel reports.
Details of its cargo have not been disclosed ‘for wartime political reasons’, according to a comment from a source.
He also said the plane may have belonged to Vladimir Putin’s elite Pskov airborne troops. They are reported to have lost five Il-76s in strikes by Ukraine.
‘If it’s Pskov regiment then it’s a real disaster – we have lost five already,’ he said.
The enormous jet is the second Il-76 to explode on the runway in the past month.
In September, another one of the Russian-made planes was filmed as it careered off a runway in Africa and exploded into a fireball amid suspicions the jet was linked to the Wagner army.
The ‘Russian made’ Il-76 plane landed in Mali but then careered off the runway where it exploded
This is the dramatic moment that the plane exploded into a massive fireball after crashing in Gao, Mali
The transporter burst into flames in Mali – where Wagner’s troops are stationed – just weeks after the private mercenary group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in an exploding business jet near Moscow.
The Ilyushin was captured on film landing in Gao but failed to come to a stop and quickly transformed into a raging inferno. It was reported that the plane’s Russian pilot had died.
Footage shows the stricken aircraft ablaze with large black plumes of smoke seen billowing into the sky.
Some reports had linked the flight to the controversial Wagner mercenary army who operate in Mali and while this has been denied, it was left open the possibility that the paramilitary group was associated with the plane.
The footage seemingly dispels reports that the aircraft was shot out of the sky by a man-portable air defence system.
Footage shows the stricken plane ablaze with large black plumes of smoke seen billowing into the sky
Dambiev pro-war Telegram channel said the crashed Il-76 was operated by a company from Belarus – a close Russian ally. The company is named Ruby Star Airways and is headquartered in Minsk. Pictured: A Il-76 cargo plane of Belorussian ‘Ruby Star’ airlines
It’s understood the plane landed too far down the 2,500 metre runway. It failed to brake in less than 500 metres and overshot the runway, exploding in a huge inferno.
Sources close to Wagner have denied the Russian mercenary group was linked to the flight, even though its forces are active in the African country. It did not rule out the possibility that Wagner was linked to the plane.
The aircraft was used by the Malian military, according to Grey Zone Telegram channel, which is close to Wagner.
‘This plane, or rather the flight, did not transport any personnel of the Wagner Group,’ said the channel.
It said earlier: ‘There were no fighters or pilots of the Wagner Group on board.’