The crash of a Russian fighter jet stationed in Armenia was officially confirmed on Thursday after rescuers found its wreckage and the body of its only crew on a snowy mountain slope near the northern city of Gyumri.
Early indications were that the MiG-29 aircraft–that disappeared from radar screens the previous day–rammed into the mountain due to poor visibility brought about by an unexpected blizzard.
An Armenian-Russian rescue team that scoured the area on army helicopters early in the morning found the wreckage near the village of Lusaghbyur–15 kilometers east of Gyumri where the Russian military base in Armenia is headquartered. A heavy snowfall made the crash site inaccessible for vehicles.
Only a cameraman from the local Tsayg television station was allowed on board another helicopter that took Russian and Armenian military prosecutors to the site located approximately 2,500 meters above the sea level. His video pictures showed a slope strewn with debris sticking out of deep snowdrifts. A battered tail was the plane’s most visible fragment.
Russian army officers in Gyumri suggested that the experienced pilot could not bail out of the plane in time because he did not expect a collision. They blamed the crash on the bad weather.
"The rescuers’ first explanation was that the plane hit a mountain," Sarkisian told reporters in Yerevan. "I think that if there were other circumstances–the pilot could have turned on the catapult mechanism. Most probably that mechanism began working after the collision," said Armenian Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian
The jet was confirmed missing on Wednesday shortly after taking off from the Erebuni military airport in Yerevan–about 140 kilometers to the south.