Romania, a country of the former Soviet glacier, is on the front line in the context of strengthening NATO’s eastern flank in the face of tensions with Russia.
Thousands of US troops were sent as reinforcements from Washington in February to the Mihail Kogalnicanu base (southeast). They were joined this week by more than 500 French troops, whose deployment was accelerated in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
It was from this base near the strategic Black Sea that the fighter took off shortly before 8 pm local time (6 pm GMT) to conduct an air patrol.
The 31-year-old pilot, who had 570 flying hours on his counter, quickly lost contact with the control tower and disappeared from radar due to bad weather. “He was found dead,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement issued overnight. The plane crashed “in an uninhabited area.”
The helicopter that left the nearby airport to find him suffered the same fate. The five crew members and the two naval rescuers from the Romanian navy who accompanied them died in the tragedy. They were between 27 and 53 years old.
“It is too early to discuss the reasons for the incident. The weather was unfavorable, but at this stage we cannot comment, “said General Constantin Spanou, a spokesman for the defense minister, on Wednesday night. An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the crash.
President Klaus Johannes spoke of a “tragic night for Romanian aviation”, addressing his “thoughts to the families of the bereaved”. The ceremonies are scheduled for Thursday in honor of the victims.
Romania suffered another fatal crash on 5 July 2010: twelve soldiers were killed when an AN-2 plane of the Romanian armed forces crashed and caught fire shortly after taking off from Tuzla Airport (east). The plane was preparing for a training flight.
Twenty days later, six Israeli soldiers and a Romanian were killed in a helicopter crash near Brasov, in the center of the country.
Soviet-era LAGs form the backbone of the Romanian Air Force, which continues to use them for air defense missions. Bucharest has invested billions of dollars over several years to modernize its military, amid regional tensions caused by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and growing in recent months.
If Romania is considered reserved for the time being with its status as a member of the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the withdrawal of NATO forces from all accession countries since 1997.
Also in Moscow’s view is Romania’s anti-missile system, the host of Romania: Russia has consistently denounced the threat against it, even if NATO insists on its purely defensive goal.