DRAMATIC footage reportedly shows the moment a Russian air ace crashed in flames when a Ukrainian soldier shot down his helicopter with a missile.
Lt-Col Sergey Gundorov, 51, is believed to be the 55th Russian colonel to die so far in Putin’s costly invasion.
He was killed near Volnovakha in the eastern Ukraine‘s Donbas region which has seen weeks of intense fighting.
Video shared by Ukrainians shows an orange flash as the low-flying Mi-35M chopper is struck by a shoulder-launched rocket.
The aircraft comes down in a field seconds later and cartwheels in a fireball crash.
And pictures from the aftermath show the fiery wreckage of the £30million attack helicopter in a crater.
A second chopper was also targeted but escaped after firing decoy flares, the video shows.
Now it has been reported high-ranking army pilot Lt-Col Gundorov was killed in the June 16 crash.
A Russian account on his death said: “Bright eternal memory to the Hero who left on his last flight.
“Pilots don’t die, they fly into the sky…The best men are leaving us.”
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Gundorov, a married father of two, had previously won three Orders of Courage.
He died after completing a “combat mission”, it was claimed.
Among condolences was a message from his teenage younger son Ilya saying simply: “Love you Dad.”
Family pictures show him with his sons and wife Anzhela.
His death follows the loss of two more colonels announced on the same day last week — highly decorated Colonel Sergei Krasnikov, 56, who had volunteered to rejoin the forces to go to war, and Colonel Sergei Postnov in his 40s.
Putin has also lost at least 11 generals in the war, and last week he sacked a top commander he blamed for heavy casualties.
Overall Russia is claimed to have lost more than 30,000 men, with some estimates of nearer to 50,000.
It has also lost hundreds of aircraft, tanks and fighting vehicles with many lethal ambushes caught on camera by defenders.
US-made Stinger missiles and British NLAWs have helped Ukrainians wreak havoc on Putin’s air powers.
Lt-Col Gundorov’s chopper was taken down by an ageing Soviet-era Igla missile, one reports says.
However defence news site The Aviationist reckons the lack of trailing smoke and the speed of the missile suggests it may have been a British Starstreak.
The Starstreak is the world’s fastest surface-to-air missile and can travel at three times the speed of sound.
Britain’s Starstreaks were used to devastating effect for the first time in Ukraine in April when a Mi-28N helicopter was shot down in the Luhansk region in the east of the country.
And they are so lethal some Russian pilots have reportedly refused to fly sorties in support of ground forces.
The ambush was claimed by the Azov SSO Battalion, which initially said the aircraft was an Mi-24.
The Mi-35 is a newer and more powerful version of the Mi-24 and looks similar.
All you need to know about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Everything you need to know about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine…
Posting on the messaging app Telegram, the Azov SSO said: “Original footage of the Russian Mi-24 helicopter.
“The burning helicopter of the occupiers made an ‘unplanned’ landing right in the middle of the Ukrainian field.
“Now it is his permanent location.”
Earlier this month, dramatic footage captured the shooting down of a Russian helicopter in the Donbas after being hit by a Ukrainian missile.
The remarkable clip showed the helicopter spinning in circles as it dropped out of the sky before bursting into flames.
It comes as Russia’s bloody war with Ukraine entered its 116th day with no clear end in sight.
Ukraine has defied a Russian ultimatum to surrender the besieged eastern city of Severodonetsk, despite Vlad’s forces controlling 80 per cent of it.
Thousands of ordinary women, children and elderly people are said to be trapped in Severodonetsk, with food, clean water and electricity running low.
Around 500 civilians are believed to be pinned down alongside soldiers in the city’s Azot chemical plant.
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