Second Commercial Flight Has 'Near-Collision' With Russian Military Aircraft, Says Sweden

A technician walks near a SAS aircraft. Johan Nilsson/Reuters

Swedish authorities said on Friday that a Russian military aircraft barely avoided a mid-air collision with a commercial passenger airplane. The SAS commercial flight SK1755 had taken off from Copenhagen and was headed to Poznan, in Poland when the incident took place over Sweden.

The Russian aircraft had reportedly shut off its transponders, which allows commercial radar to detect an aircraft's location, according to Sweden's air force chief, Major General Micael Bydén. Sweden's battle command center discovered the plane on their own radar, then alerted civilian air traffic control in Malmo. Bydén told the Guardian that the commercial flight was then ordered to immediately change course, which in turn avoided a possible collision.

Swedish fighter jets were then deployed to investigate what had happened. Defense minister Peter Hultqvist said that they discovered it was a military intelligence aircraft from Russia. "This is serious. This is inappropriate... it's outright dangerous when you turn off the transponder," Hultqvist said on Swedish radio.

This is the second time just this year that Russian military aircraft have turned off their transponders and nearly had a run-in with commericial flights in Scandinavia. In March, a Russian airplane—again without transponders on—flew unexpectedly within 100 meters of an SAS flight leaving Copenhagen.

Russia has denied the most recent claim, saying that the aircraft had kept at a safe and legal distance from the commercial flight. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman General Major Igor Konashenko was quoted as telling TASS News Agency that: "A flight was carried out in strict accordance with international rules on air space and did not violate the borders of other countries and was at a safe distance from the flight paths of civilian airplanes."

NATO, which also patrols the Baltic Sea, said that Russian military aircraft were threatening the lives of those on commercial airlines when they don't report flight paths and turn off their transponders. Reuters reports that just this year, NATO warplanes have had to scramble 400 times in light of the heightened Russian military air presence in Europe.

Airline company SAS has also said that the two planes were far away enough, and has toned down accusations of a near-crash. Norwegian communications manager at SAS, Knut Morten Johansen, said in an interview with Swedish news outlet TT that: "In this particular case, no security perimeter has been broken. It is therefore important by SAS to say that no one has been in danger, both the pilot and traffic management have had control of the situation."

Russian military aircraft have been circling the Baltic Sea area more frequently in the past months, however. Sweden claims that they found a small Russian submarine illegally patrolling its waters earlier this fall, and a gaggle of warships from Russia came through the English Channel in November.

Second Commercial Flight Has 'Near-Collision' With Russian Military Aircraft, Says Sweden | World