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Romanian military personnel killed in air crash

March 3, 2022

After a fighter jet crashed in eastern Romania, a mission to find the plane also ended in tragedy when a search-and-rescue helicopter crashed as well. The cause of the accident is now under investigation.

Image of fighter jet MiG 21 LanceR belonging to the Romanian Air Force
A MiG-21 LanceR fighter similar to the one pictured above was on an air patrol when it dropped off the radarImage: DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images

The pilot of a fighter jet and seven soldiers sent to find him on a helicopter search operation have all died following the two separate crashes in eastern Romania, officials confirmed on Thursday.

Romania's military was mourning the victims and investigating the incidents — although officials have said they were not caused by an attack.

What happened?

The MiG-21 LanceR fighter jet was on an air patrol when it dropped off the radar in eastern Romania between the villages of Cogealac and Gura Dobrogei on Wednesday.

The pilot of the IAR 330-Puma helicopter sent to find him had reported "unfavorable weather" and had been called back to base before it also crashed, the Defense Ministry said. All seven soldiers aboard died.

Later on Wednesday, the 31-year-old fighter jet pilot was also found dead, after the aircraft crash site was discovered near the Black Sea.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis called the crashes "a tragic night for Romanian aviation" and said he sent his "thoughts to the bereaved families" of the victims.

Military aircraft of the same models will be grounded while the cause of the crash is being investigated, the Defense Ministry said.

"It is premature to discuss possible causes. Certainly, there were unfavorable weather conditions, but we can't comment now," ministry spokesman General Constantin Spanu told local television.

Defense Minister Vasile Dincu also said there was "no evidence" that a hostile attack was behind the crashes.

Romania's armed forces planned memorials for the crash victims to take place on Thursday.

Have there been problems before?

The crashes were the deadliest incident to hit the country's air force since 2014, when a military helicopter crash in central Romania killed eight people.

Berlin welcomes refugees from Ukraine

Deadly accidents involving the MiG-21 LanceR fighter jet have occurred in recent years.

In 2018, a Romanian Air Force pilot died after his jet crashed during an air show in the country's southeast.

The Romanian Air Force still relies on the old Soviet-era MiG jets for air patrol missions, though it is beginning to modernize its aircraft.

NATO's eastern flank

The EU and NATO member state is also on the front line of boosting the trans-Atlantic military alliance's forces as the Ukraine-Russia conflict continues to grow next door.

Over 51,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring Romania since the start of the conflict last week, according to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. As regional tensions grow, Romania has called for NATO reinforcements on its eastern borders.

In recent weeks, the US has sent several armored vehicles and some 1,000 troops to Romania.

Meanwhile, France is also sending more than 500 soldiers to the eastern flank this week.

It comes after Germany's air force dispatched six Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, and Italy sent four similar planes.

ft/nm (AFP, Reuters)