“Three crew members and two officers from the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria were on board,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to Russia Today.
The transporter was en route to the Russian air base at Khmeimim after returning from distributing humanitarian supplies to the Syrian city. The Russian Reconciliation Center was established by the Ministry of Defense to serve as a peace buffer between the Syrian government and opposition groups not affiliated with terrorist groups.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the passengers on board were participating in a humanitarian mission before they were killed.
“Those on board the helicopter were killed, as we learned from the Defense Ministry’s report. They died heroically as [the crew] tried to divert the helicopter to minimize casualties on the ground,” Peskov said in a statement, according to Russia Today. “The Kremlin conveys its deep condolences to the families of those killed in action.”
The identities of the deceased are unknown as well as the group behind the attack.
Soon after the carnage, videos surfaced on social media of what appeared to be the aftermath.
Новое видео с места крушения вертолёта Ми-8 ВКС РФ, сбитого боевиками “Джейш аль-Фатх” на севере провинции Идлиб pic.twitter.com/aJ7cu93Y8m
— Вестник Дамаска (@NovostiDamask) August 1, 2016
This is the third Russian helicopter incident that resulted in casualties in 2016.
In July, an Mi-25 crashed near Palmyra, killing two Russian pilots, and in April, an Mi-28 attack helicopter crashed near the city of Homs. However, in the second case, the Russian military stressed that there was no evidence a rebel attack brought the helicopter down. According to the Kremlin, the Mi-25 crash was caused by technical issues.
“Nobody shot at the aircraft. This is probably a technical failure,” Peskov said at the time.