Tragic mid-air collision narrowly avoided, reports say
A tragic mid-air collision in international airspace close to southern Sweden was narrowly avoided on Friday, reports say. It is the latest incident involving Russian military aircraft flying with transponders switched off.
SAS flight SK1755 had just taken off from Copenhagen to Poznan in Poland with around 50 passengers on board when it was quickly diverted by Swedish authorities. Russia is insisting its military jet was at a safe distance.
“A flight was carried out in strict accordance with international rules on airspace and did not violate the borders of other countries and was at a safe distance from the flight paths of civilian planes,” General Major Igor Konashenko, spokesman at Russia’s Defence Ministry, said.
SAS also said the two planes were at a safe distance. According to reports, the aircraft were no closer than 900 metres from each other.
Although the Russian plane was without a transponder – electronic identification that makes it visible on the radars of commercial planes – it was spotted on radar by Sweden’s defence forces.
Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper obtained radio traffic between the country’s military air traffic control and the SAS pilot. The plane had been given clearance to climb to 25,000 feet only to be told three minutes later to stop climbing at 22,000.
“Our staff gave them a clear recommendation – ‘do something, turn away’,” Swedish Defence Air Forces chief Micael Bydén told the paper. “The civil traffic controller then did that.”
Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s Defence Minister, said the situation was “serious, inappropriate and downright dangerous.” He added: “There is a risk that accidents could occur that could ultimately lead to deaths.”
Earlier this month NATO complained to Russia that military flights were a threat to civilian planes by turning off communications devices and failing to file flight plans. NATO warplanes have scrambled 400 times this year due to increased Russian air activity around Europe.
As recently as Friday morning, a Cimber passenger aircraft was on a collision course with a Russian spy plane just south of Malmö, Danish newspaper Berlingske reported. Military and civilian air traffic controllers warned the Cimber pilots, who made an evasive manoeuvre. In March, as previously reported, a crash almost occurred when a SAS plane came within 100 metres of a Russian aircraft.
Reuters / Copenhagen Post / Dagens Nyheter /The Local
[pictured: Soviet-era Tu-16; Photo courtesy San Diego Air & Space Museum]