NATO Eurofighter stray missile search called off

AIM-120 AMRAAM-type missile being loaded onto an F-16 Fighting Falcon. Photo is illustrative.
AIM-120 AMRAAM-type missile being loaded onto an F-16 Fighting Falcon. Photo is illustrative. Source: Staff Sergeant Vince Parker (USAF)/Wikimedia Commons

The Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) have announced their decision to abandon any active search for the missing missile accidentally fired from a NATO Eurofighter Typhoon in Estonian airspace on Tuesday, 7 August, but remain ready to react and continue any new search if and when new information arises.

"All the theoretical impact points of the missile have now been carefully searched,'' said Commander of the Estonian Air Force Col. Riivo Valge in an EDF press release.

''Over the past two weeks, we employed three helicopters, five ground patrols and fifty-strong units of personnel to undertake the search on the ground. We also got help from the Rescue Board (Päästeamet) Explosive Ordnance Disposal Centre and used Air Force drones in the search," he added.

"Despite our systematic approach and actions the location of the impacted missile has not been identified and all probable locations have been ruled out as of now," Col. Valge went on.

Not feasible to continue search now most likely location eliminated

Col. Valge stated that according to the analyses of the trajectory of the missile, an AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), plus information received by the Air Force, the search had moved from the most probable locations of impact to the less probable areas.

The EDF has concluded that further search is no longer rational because chances of finding the missile or its debris are too small, but it is ready to continue the search should any new information arise.

Col. Valge said that it is still unclear what happened to the missile after it was fired – it might have exploded mid-air or upon the impact with the ground, it might have penetrated the soil and exploded underground. It is also still possible that the missile hit the ground without detonating its warhead.

What public needs to know in event of finding missile or other ordnance

"It is extremely important that anybody who finds any ordnance or anything resembling ordnance immediately inform the Rescue Board by calling 112, then clearly mark the location and leave the dangerous area," said the Head of the Rescue Board Explosive Ordnance Disposal Centre Meelis Mesi.

Mr. Mesi added that 4,071 pieces of mostly historical ordnance were disposed last year during planned ordnance disposal works or on receiving information submitted by the public. Ordnance found in these cases was either destroyed in situ or transported and destroyed at ordnance disposal areas.

"Dealing with ordnance should be left to Rescue Board explosive ordnance disposal specialists, who have modern personal protection gear and the hardware for such operations," Mr. Mesi went on.

When and where it happened

On Tuesday, August 07 at 15.44 EEST a Ejército del Aire (Spanish Air Force) Eurofighter on NATO Baltic Air Policing duty accidentally fired an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile in Estonian airspace. The Eurofighter was flying over the village of Pangodi, around 25 km southwest of Tartu, at an altitude of 6,000 m when the missile was inadvertently launched in a direction which in layperson's terms has been described as north-northwesterly.

The impact zone was extrapolated from that by personnel as lying in the area of the Endla bog in Jõgeva County and about 100 km away, assuming it had reached the area intact, which is of course reportedly not known. The border of the Russian Federation at its closest point to Pangodi lies only a little over 60 km in an easterly direction and bisects Lake Lämmijärv; the border of (EU and NATO member state) Latvia lies a little further away, in a southwesterly direction.

About 600 hectares of ground in the Endla bog area was searched using equipment such as metal detectors and excavators, and a further area of about 200 hectares came under visual observation, but no trace of the missile was found.

No casualties or material damage resulting from the incident have been reported. The incident remains under investigation by the EDF and Spanish Defence Forces. In addition, the Estonian Ministry of Defence has created a joint working group with Ministry of Economic affairs and Communications to evaluate the safety of the civil aviation during future military air exercises.

The AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM is a US-made, beyond-visual-range, fire-and-forget missile system capable of all-weather day-and-night operations. Its brevity code amongst NATO pilots is 'Fox Three' at least when intentionally launched. More than 14,000 have been made and, as well as the US, it is in the service of the armed forces of around 33 countries worldwide including Spain. It has been credited with 10 air-to-air kills, it is reported, and was first used in the Southern No-Fly Zone over Iraq in 1992, and was later used in the 1999 Kosovo War.

The Eurofighter Typhoon is a multi-role fighter, built by multi-national firms and operated by several EU nations, which entered service in 1994.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Kaitseväe peastaap (EDF headquarters)

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