MOSCOW, August 24 (Itar-Tass) — The explosion at the Ashuluk firing range occurred during the unloading of projectiles for the “Grad” system, the press service of the Investigative Committee’s main military investigation department (GVSU) told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.
“According to preliminary information, personnel of military unit # 40491-1 were unloading projectiles for the “Grad” system, from a “Ural” truck onto the ground. An explosion occurred as the ammunition was being put in the place where it had to be blasted. It set off chain explosions in which an officer and five conscripts died,” the GVSU said.
Another 12 troops were injured and sent to hospital to the Alexandro-Mariinskaya hospital and the military hospital in Astrakhan.
The GVSU opened a criminal case under Article 349, Part 3 of Russia’s Criminal Code (“violation of rules for handling high hazard objects which resulted in negligent death of two or more persons.”).
At present, investigators continue to question witnesses, and retrieve documents from the military unit. After the engineer completed the inspection of the scene of the accident, military investigators will immediately begin to examine it, the GVSU added. The terrain is studded with craters and fragments of ammunition from previous blasts which complicates the inspection.
Earlier, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said a Ministry’s commission headed by General of the Army Dmitry Bulgakov would fly to Ashuluk, Astrakhan region, on Wednesday.
“I’ve signed a decree to set up a commission to probe the accident. It will be led by my deputy, General of the Army Dmitry Bulgakov. He is flying to the scene of the accident on Wednesday morning,” Serdyukov told reporters.
He promised a report to President Dmitry Medvedev with “the conclusions on the guilty parties.”
The accident occurred at 17:40, Moscow time, on August 23.
“Six servicemen died, including one officer. Ten troops were injured. We’ll certainly provide assistance to the families of the dead and the injured,” Serdyukov said.
Commander of the Southern Military District Col-Gen Alexander Galkin with his specialists went to the scene.
The Russian armed force had not recycled obsolete ammunition before 2009.
“There was practically no utilization from 1997 through 2009,” Serdyukov said.
“In 2009, the army scrapped 159,000 ammunition by demolition. This year, we’re eliminating 1.693 rounds of ammunition. We have already scrapped 1.1 million roubles,” he added.
Meanwhile, the investigators have begun identification procedures for the six fatalities.