MOSCOW — A senior government official died on Wednesday when he dove off a cliff trying to save a prominent film director who had fallen into the water during a drill in Russia’s Far North, officials confirmed.
Yevgeny N. Zinichev, the minister of emergency situations, “was tragically killed while on duty, while taking part in interagency exercises designed to protect the Arctic zone from emergencies, as he tried to save a person’s life,” a statement from his ministry said.
Mr. Zinichev, who was visiting the region of Norilsk as part of a multicity drill involving 6,000 people, dived into the water after Aleksandr Melnik, the director, slipped and fell off a wet rock, the ministry’s press service told local reporters.
The Russian-state news agency, TASS, reported that Mr. Melnik, who was scouting locations for a documentary, also died. The men had been standing on the edge of the Kitabo Oron waterfall, part of the picturesque Putorana State Nature Reserve in northern Siberia, about 100 miles west of Norilsk.
“He did not hesitate for a second, not as a minister, but as a rescuer, having committed a heroic act,” Russia’s deputy emergency minister Andrei Gurovich said of Mr. Zinichev to the Russia 24 TV channel.
“He lived like that all his life.”
As minister of emergencies, Mr. Zinichev was responsible for managing the country’s response to natural and man-made disasters, including the forest fires raging in Siberia.
The position is considered influential in Russia. Its previous holder, Sergei K. Shoigu, a confidant of President Vladimir V. Putin, oversaw the ministry for two decades before becoming defense minister in 2012.
Mr. Zinichev, who was 55, began working for the Russian security services, then known as the K.G.B., in 1987. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he continued to work for the domestic intelligence agency, which was renamed the F.S.B. He became a member of Mr. Putin’s security detail in 2006.
In 2014, he became deputy head of the F.S.B.’s counterterrorism service, rising in 2016 to deputy head of the entire agency. He was appointed emergency minister in May 2018, and also served on Russia’s Security Council.
Mr. Zinichev’s is the first death of a sitting minister in Russia, according to the BBC, which also reported that the exercises had been ordered by Mr. Putin to prepare for crisis situations in the Arctic.
The Russian president expressed his condolences from the Siberian taiga, where he was spending a few days with Mr. Shoigu, according to his spokesman Dmitri Peskov.
Mr. Melnik was a director and screenwriter. He is best known for “Terra Nova,” a 2008 movie about a group of prisoners taken to an island. “Territory,” released in 2015, based on an Arctic adventure novel inspired by real events, tells the story of the discovery of gold reserves in northeastern Russia. Parts of the film were shot in the Putorana reserve where he died. Mr. Melnik had been taking part in the drills as part of his search for locations for a planned documentary on the development of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route.