August 30, 2011 - 16:30 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A Lithuanian military plane collided midair with a French NATO jet Tuesday, August 30, and crashed after its two pilots ejected, officials in both countries as said.
The French Mirage fighter landed safely after the collision with the Lithuanian L-39 Albatros combat training aircraft near the Zokniai air base in northern Lithuania. The Lithuanian pilots ejected and were taken to a hospital for medical checkups, the Associated Press quoted the officials as saying.
According to the report, their plane crashed in forested swampland near Rekyva lake, which is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the air base, Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviciene told the Baltic News Service. There were no reports of injuries on the ground.
France has fighter jets based at Zokniai, 135 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of the capital Vilnius, as part of NATO's air patrols over the Baltic countries.
In rotating missions introduced after Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined the alliance in 2004, larger NATO countries take turns policing the skies over the Baltic countries, who all border Russia, because they don't have any significant air defense resources of their own.
French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said the accident happened during a patrol flight involving two Mirage 2000C jets and the Lithuanian aircraft.
"During the patrol, there was a collision between two aircraft - one French and the Lithuanian - and this led to the ejection of the two Lithuanian pilots, and the two French planes landed," he said.
"The two Lithuanian pilots were recovered, and are safe and sound, and they are on the way to a local hospital for a check, and the two French pilots are safe and sound naturally because they were able to land," Burkhard said.
Lithuanian armed forces spokesman Skomantas Povilionis confirmed both pilots were found alive but didn't give details on their conditions.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius promised a full investigation into the accident.
"I am very sorry about this accident, we do not know the circumstances yet, but it is a great relief to know that there we no human casualties," Kubilius said.
Burkhard said it wouldn't change anything in France's role in the NATO operation, carried out from a base near the northern town of Siauliai. Several such training flights occur each week, he said.