Mystery plane eluded air defenses of 6 NATO states

Unidentified pilot managed to fly above several European countries without any approval, before the crew disappeared without a trace.

A mysterious aircraft that was seen flying out of Lithuania was permitted to pass the airspaces of many NATO members without any obstruction before making its landing in Bulgaria. Officials across the continent still have difficulty understanding the illegal flight. The crew of the aircraft, which was seen flying out of Lithuania, managed to flee and escape without being captured by fighter jets.

After departing from a yet to be officially disclosed location in Lithuania on Thursday, the craft traveled across Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Serbia, and Romania – all NATO states besides Belgrade – ultimately winding up at an abandoned airfield in Bulgaria, according to European officials and media reports. The plane was later found abandoned with no sign of its crew, though its engine was reportedly still warm when it was discovered.

Officials from several countries watched the flight closely. The US, Hungarian and Romanian military sent jets to track the aircraft at different points. However, when the plane entered Bulgarian airspace, they broke up the escorts. Although the small propeller craft didn’t have its transponder activated and refused to answer radio calls, officials in Bulgaria decided that it was not a danger despite alarms being raised in neighboring countries.

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According to reports, the Romanian military reached similar conclusions. Officials considered the aircraft suspicious but ultimately did not consider it dangerous.

The exact type of craft involved is still unknown. Conflicting reports name it as both a Piper PA-23 Aztec and a Beechcraft. The latter assertion was first unveiled by Lithuanian media outlet, which claimed to cite the aircraft’s formal (but no longer valid) registration number linking it to an Aztec. 

Moreover, the former owner of the plane, Bronius Zaronskis – who appears to have posted a photo of the craft on Facebook in 2017, years before it was sold – has only deepened the mystery, telling that he cannot provide the names of those who purchased it, nor the organization with which they were affiliated. 

“They were not Lithuanians. I cannot say which country they were from, maybe Ukrainians, maybe Romanians, or Bulgarians,”He said. “One man and I communicated with each other in Russian… I don’t know the names of these men. I wasn’t interested.”

The ex-owner continued to: “I sold it and said goodbye to that plane. For many years, I tried to sell it. They bought it because I didn’t have anywhere to put it. I don’t remember which organization bought it. It was written in a foreign language.”

This mysterious flight occurred as European countries are more alert because of the conflict in Ukraine. Since February, Russian warplanes have been repeatedly flying air attacks from Ukraine. The EU’s Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recently warned of an increased risk to civilian passenger planes flying in the region, citing the chance for “misidentification”possible errors that could arise from the chaos surrounding warzone.

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