YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A Russian military plane disappeared from radar screens on Wednesday–shortly after taking off from the Erebuni military airport in Yerevan early in the afternoon. It was detected missing in northwestern Armenia after failing to return from what military officials said was a routine training flight.
Defense Ministry spokesman Seyran Shahsuvarian–said that the MiG-29 fighter jet belonged to the Russian military base in Armenia.
The official said a rescue team of the Armenian government’s Department on Emergency Situations was scouring the area around the town of Artik near the Turkish border.
A Russian news agency–citing Russian military sources in Armenia–reported that some local residents saw the MiG-29 going down.
But Armenia’s Emergency Department spokesman Nikolay Grigorian said that as of 8PM local time–rescuers failed to find wreckage or other traces–and only suspect that it crashed near Artik.
The whereabouts of the 39-year-old pilot–a Russian air force major–is also unknown.
Russian military personnel are reportedly involved in the search via army helicopters–according to a Russian Air Force spokesman–who said that the search was suspended with nightfall–but will resume on Thursday morning.
The missing jet–capable of carrying up to four heavy bombs–was part of a unit of about two dozen MiG-29s deployed by Russia in Armenia in the late 1990s–along with state-of-the-art S-300 surface-to-air missiles. They significantly boosted the country’s air-defense system which is integrated into the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty of several ex-Soviet states.
It was Russia’s first reported loss of military aircraft on Armenian territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Designed in the late 1970s–MiG-29 is one of the Russian military’s most powerful and high-tech warplanes. It has been exported abroad since 1986.