Defence ministry ends Spanish missile investigation, pilot error to blame

Eurofighter Typhoon (picture is illustrative).
Eurofighter Typhoon (picture is illustrative). Source: Reuters/Scanpix

The investigation into the accidental firing of an air-to-air missile in Estonian airspace last summer has been concluded, with pilot error being pinpointed, the Ministry of Defence said in a press release.

The incident, which happened on 7 August 2018, involved the misfiring of an AMRAAM air-to-air missile from a Spanish Eurofighter jet in NATO service.

The misfiring occurred in the area around Pangodi village, near Tartu, and the missile probably impacted in or near the Endla bog, about 100 km to the north. The jet was flying at around 6,000 m altitude at the time.

The Estonian/Russian border lies about 60 km east of Pangodi.

Despite an extensive search, neither missile nor missile debris was found, although some small bush fires caused by the impact needed extinguishing.

The investigation, carried out principally by the Ministry of Defence, as well as civilian agencies under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, found that the misfiring arose from pilot error, in failing to comply with safety rules, and not from a system or technical fault.

The investigation also found current air safety rules and regulations, both concerning civilian and military aviation, in fact the main thrust of the investigation, to be adequate.

The ministry did however note it is crucial these regulations are followed at all times across the alliance's missions and operations.

Spanish investigation drew same conclusion

The ministry noted that Spanish authorities were constructive in their cooperation and emphasised that Estonia would always welcome back Spanish jets, which have patrolled Estonian airspace a total of five times on NATO duties so far.

The Spanish airforce's own internal investigation last year also concluded pilot error to be the cause of the incident.

The incident, which reportedly caused no threat to civilian aviation since the training airspace was restricted during the exercise, is the first of its kind since NATO air policing began.

NATO jets have patrolled the airspace over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 2004, when the three countries joined NATO. The Ämari Air base to the west of Tallinn has been in use since 2014 for the purpose, adding to existing facilities at Šiauliai, Lithuania.

The local populace has reportedly been informed of the importance of reporting the missile or its debris if it should ever come to light, since they, the missile fragments, could still prove a public danger.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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