Radar silence over the Black Sea – the pilot and MiG-29 are still missing

SOFIA, BM, ($1=1.61 BGN) – Shortly after midnight on the morning of May 9, a Bulgarian pilot and his MiG-29 fighter disappeared from radar nearly 5 km into the Black Sea during the annual Shabla 21 military exercise. A search and rescue operation led by the Ministry of Defense began. The Republic of Bulgaria includes two corvettes, one minesweeper, Air Force helicopters, and an unmanned aerial vehicle.

The fighter pilot Major Valentin Terziev carried out a training combat operation to shoot a hypothetical enemy target over the Black Sea during the exercise. The procedure was as follows: another plane landed a glowing target and Terziev had to hit it with a fired air-to-air missile.

According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense, Major Terziev is not an accidental pilot – he has many flying hours, he has also participated in similar exercises before, and has experience in night training. “Major Valentin Terziev is a first-class pilot with extensive experience in flying, including at night,” said Defense Minister Georgi Panayotov. During his service in the Air Force, there were no remarks on his work, as well as non-fulfillment of his tasks.

Later in the day, when the rescue operation was underway, a journalist from the Bulgarian edition claimed in front of the national television that he had seen the pilot’s life jacket on the surface of the Black Seawater. This information has not been officially confirmed by the Bulgarian Ministry, although several Russian media outlets have disseminated it.

The search for the plane and the Bulgarian pilot is currently underway. The chances of Major Terziev being discovered are diminishing. There is no confirmed information whether Terziev managed to eject or not. As for the search for the crashed MiG-29, rescuers are looking for the black box of the plane, which would reveal details of the incident.

Bulgarian military experts took part in the race to give the most objective analysis and interpret what happened. According to some, night air operations on mobile targets are much more complex than a day and above ground operations. The reason is that during the day the pilot can easily orient himself in the direction of the waves, on the waves themselves which form a white ridge. When flying above the ground, the geographical reflex helps the pilot, even more, to properly control the fighter.

The MiG-29 has a system that, in case of a problem, synchronizes and aligns the aircraft in a horizontal plane if it is violated. There is no information on whether the system has worked.

So far, according to Bulgarian experts, the prevailing opinion is that this incident is due to a pilot error. This is very strange, considering that these fighters are too old, constantly updated. The specific fighter of Major Terziev was purchased and delivered to Bulgaria in the late 80s of the last century.

The Commander of the Bulgarian Air Force, Major General Dimitar Petrov, stated that the technical condition of the aircraft is constantly checked, both while it is on the ground and before the flight. According to him, this is a process that is accompanied by several stages. “Air Force professionals work beyond their means. For several reasons, our pilots have been flying at a sanitary minimum for years due to underfunding. I hope this is not the cause of the incident,” said Bulgarian Prime Minister Stefan Yanev in response to a question.

Currently, Bulgarian aviation is grounded, and the Shabla 21 exercise has been suspended.

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