Dozens of servicemen questioned in Ashuluk explosion investigation

MOSCOW, August 26 (Itar-Tass) — Dozens of servicemen, including the wounded, have been questioned in the investigation of the Tuesday explosion at the Ashuluk training range in the Astrakhan region, the Main Military Investigation Department of the Russian Investigation Committee told Itar-Tass.

“Eleven injured servicemen are receiving therapy at the hospital. Three of them have been questioned. It is impossible to question the others because of their serious condition. Several dozens of servicemen, who were staying from ten to 100 meters from the explosion epicenter, were questioned as well,” the department said.

The precise location of the explosion has been established. “The explosion scene was examined once again to collect fragments of the projectile, which had a self-induced detonation,” the department said.

“Final conclusions about the causes of the incident will be drawn when all the evidence is collected and evaluated,” the department said.

The explosion death toll has grown to seven, a source at the regional health ministry told Itar-Tass earlier in the day.

“Private Yevgeny Barsukov drafted from Kalmykia died at the Astrakhan region clinic without coming out of coma,” he said.

The clinic is giving therapy to four soldiers hurt in the explosion. Another five servicemen are being treated at the Astrakhan military hospital.

The explosion happened at about 5:40 p.m. Moscow time when servicemen were unloading Grad projectiles from a truck. One projectile blasted detonating the others. Six servicemen died instantly, and twelve more were injured. The Astrakhan regional clinic admitted servicemen with the worst injuries, and the rest were taken to the Caspian flotilla hospital in Astrakhan. A helicopter delivered the injured servicemen to Astrakhan.

Flotilla detectives opened a criminal case on the charges of negligent handling of explosives that caused more than two deaths.

This is the second accident at Ashuluk over the past year. Neglect of fire safety rules led to a fire and explosion of a 76-millimeter artillery projectile on April 11. The explosion killed a serviceman.

Commander of the Ashuluk combined company disposing of munitions Andrei Stribizhev was charged with causing death by negligence.

Ashuluk was established on May 25, 1960, as the research and training range of air defense forces. It is located 110 kilometers north of Astrakhan.

In recent years the training range has become the constant host of the Combat Commonwealth air defense and air force exercises of CIS member countries.

The Central Military District command suspended the disposal of old munitions until August 29, the commander’s press secretary Yaroslav Roshchupkin told Itar-Tass.

He said the Ashuluk tragedy would be investigated within this period.

“District commander Col. Gen. Vladimir Chirkin tightened personal responsibility of the command of army ammunition depots for stored projectiles,” he added.

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