NATO Jet Accidentally Fires Missile During Baltic Practice

A NATO fighter jet deployed in northeast Europe accidentally fired a missile during training. Authorities are now looking for the ammunition, which could still be live and ready to explode.

The incident took place in Estonia, but it was a Spanish Air Force jet that made the mistake, during an exercise with other pilots from the NATO alliance. Estonia, alongside Latvia and Lithuania, does not have its own fighter jets and bigger allies such as Spain take turns sending a total of around a dozen jets with pilots to patrol the skies of the three countries, all of which border Russia.

“The air-to-air missile has not hit any aircraft,” the Spanish Defense Ministry said in a statement about the unprecedented launch of the air-to-air missile on Tuesday. It added that three other planes flew alongside the offending aircraft during the drill, including another Spanish Eurofighter and two Dassault Mirage 2000 jets sent by the French Armed Forces. “After the incident the planes returned safely to the Siauliai Air Base.”

08_08_Spanish_jet Spain's Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon (L) and Portugal's Air Force F-16 fighters fly over an air base during the air policing mission rotation event in Siauliai, Latvia, May 4, 2016. A Spanish jet accidentally fired during a training flight, in what Estonian officials say is a first for the mission. Ints Kalnins/Reuters

The incident took place over southeastern Estonia. The missile could potentially carry 22 pounds of explosives and authorities last located its movement to around 24 miles north of Tartu. In such cases launched missiles often self-destruct, however it is still unclear whether this was the case on Tuesday.

This was the first ever such incident for the NATO mission in the Baltics, Estonia’s Colonel Riivo Valge, commander of the country’s airborne force, told public broadcaster ERR.

Defense Minister Jüri Luik said the incident was unfortunate but stressed that such bungled launches of deadly ammo are highly uncommon, especially when it comes to the NATO air mission in the Baltics. The mission enjoys strong support from the governments of all three countries.

"The most important thing is to ensure safety and, in cooperation with the allies, to find out what has happened,” Luik said. Estonia’s military is currently investigating the incident.

The country’s Prime Minister Jüri Ratas issued a similar statement on Facebook, expressing his belief that Estonia and its NATO allies will “make every effort to make sure that nothing like this happens again.”

"The horrible incident that happened today, according to the current information, has passed, thanks to God, without human casualties, but it is nevertheless extremely regrettable. The incident and the related authorities are doing their utmost to ensure people's safety,” he added.

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Portugal will temporarily take over activities that the Spanish Air Force had scheduled to participate in as part of the mission, while the investigation into what caused the launch goes ahead. Currently France, Spain and Portugal have all deployed forces across the two airfields in Estonia and Lithuania, utilized by the mission. NATO allies pass on responsibility for policing Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania’s airspace on a biannual basis and the current participating nations took the reins from Denmark and Italy in May.

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