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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pilot Error Suspected in Lviv Disaster

APA man praying Monday on the tarmac where the Su-27 crashed. An Orthodox prayer service was also held at the Lviv air base.
LVIV, Ukraine -- A nation in mourning, Ukraine on Monday began burying 83 people killed when a fighter jet sliced into a crowd of air show spectators. The country's top prosecutor said pilot error and poor planning were likely to blame for the disaster.

As black ribbons flew from flagpoles nationwide to mourn history's deadliest air show disaster, Prosecutor General Sviatoslav Piskun said the Su-27 had been flying too low before Saturday's crash in the western city of Lviv and that organizers should not have allowed stunts to be performed directly over spectators.

The Defense Ministry on Monday banned all warplane flights, except for basic duty flights. Ukraine's air force commander and a top officer have been detained, the plane's two pilots are under investigation and the defense minister has submitted his resignation because of the crash.

"As of now we may surely say that it was military negligence," Piskun told reporters in Kiev. "Also there were signs of criminal actions by pilots. They used this vehicle incorrectly."

He said other possible causes were also being investigated, including mechanical failure of the 15-year-old plane or terrorism. He said the two pilots had originally been planning to use another Su-27 for the show but it was replaced at the last minute.

The jet had been performing a risky maneuver at low altitude when it nicked the ground, sliced off the nose of a plane sitting on the tarmac and roared through a crowd of hundreds of spectators before exploding in a ball of fire.

Eighty-three people were killed, including 23 children, and 116 were injured, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. The pilots ejected and survived.

Relatives and friends of 28-year-old economics student Bohdan Shcherbynin crammed into a Greek Catholic church Monday in Lviv for his funeral service -- next door to the city morgue, where refrigerator trucks continued to bring in bodies.

His mother and fiancee fainted at the church and later at the overgrown cemetery where he was interred under a muggy drizzle.

Shcherbynin's mother Maria had just arrived from Italy with clothes for the family to wear at her son's upcoming wedding. Instead, they were worn at his funeral.

Regional authorities said 45 funerals were planned Monday and more Tuesday in and around Lviv.

Earlier Monday, family members and survivors sang songs and recited prayers led by Ukrainian Orthodox clerics at a ceremony at the Sknyliv air base. Flowers were strewn around the singed turf.

Nick Cook, an aerospace consultant for Jane's Defense Weekly in London, said "they were flying awfully low," but that the pilots may have dropped altitude because of a malfunction.

Mikhail Simonov, general designer for Russia's Sukhoi design bureau that made the Su-27, lamented the limited flight time that most Ukrainian -- and Russian -- pilots now have each year because of lack of funding for fuel.

"When I hear how much flight time the pilots have, 50 hours, 30 hours, sometimes less, this is absolutely not enough for stable piloting," he said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

In Western air forces, pilots fly a minimum of 200 hours a year.