Pilotless MIG Flies Into NATO Skies, Crashes

From Times Wire Services

A Soviet jet fighter flew over three NATO nations Tuesday, after its pilot ejected over Poland, and crashed into a house near the French-Belgian border, killing a teen-ager inside.

Officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, headquartered in Brussels, said U.S. F-15s intercepted the MIG-23 soon after it entered NATO airspace and accompanied it until it crashed. They said the Soviet plane was carrying only conventional weapons.

The Soviet news agency Tass said the plane went astray after the pilot ejected because of equipment failure “during a training flight over Poland.” It said the pilot survived.


A spokesman for the West German air force’s administrative headquarters said in Cologne that the MIG took off from the Polish city of Kolobrzeg, more than 625 miles from where it came down.

Tass said the Soviet Defense Ministry was “contacting governments of the countries whose airspace was crossed by the plane”--West Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

In Brussels, Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens summoned the Soviet ambassador to his office for further explanation, a spokesman for Eyskens said.

At the Defense Department in Washington, Air Force Maj. Mike Stepp said the NATO air defense system picked up the MIG “before it ever crossed into NATO airspace,” and the F-15s “were scrambled and intercepted the aircraft.”

When the American pilots caught the Soviet plane, they saw “it had no canopy and no pilot,” he said.

No Soviet Warning

West German government sources said in Bonn that Soviet officials apparently gave NATO no warning that the plane was approaching, and one questioned why Warsaw Pact defenses did not try to shoot it down.


“We would like to know whether the Soviets knew an aircraft was about to go West and why they never made any attempt to bring it down in their airspace,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The plane flew over some of Western Europe’s most densely populated areas and went down only miles from a cluster of urban areas along the border.

Gaston Bourlet of the Belgian Defense Ministry said the MIG crashed at 10:37 a.m. into a house near Wevelgem, 50 miles west of Brussels, killing an 18-year-old man. The house was destroyed and only the MIG’s tail section, adorned with a red star, was still recognizable.

Firefighters fought the flames for more than an hour.

Military officials in West Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium said that the MIG-23 entered West German airspace at 9:42 a.m. and that there was no response to radio requests for identification. The U.S. Air Force F-15s scrambled from Soesterberg Air Base in the central Netherlands and caught the intruder over northern West Germany.

After crossing into northern Holland at 40,000 feet, the Soviet fighter veered southward, lost speed and altitude and crashed 55 minutes after it was detected on NATO radar screens, they said.

Lt. Col. Michael R. Gannon, a spokesman at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe near Casteau, Belgium, said NATO officials had hoped the MIG would head out over the North Sea, where the F-15s could safely shoot it down.

Another official at the headquarters said privately the decision was made not to attack over land because “when it is shot in the air at high altitude, you don’t know where it is going.”