This is the story of the 1989 Belgium MiG-23 crash.
Before I start with the story, I need to give a shout-out to @Robertine for inspiring me to make some history topics of my own. Check out his topic talking about a former WWII airfield in France!
For this story, we need to go back a little over 30 years. It’s the 4th of July, 1989.
At this time, the Soviet Union was still very much a thing. One of the now independent countries that was a part of the Union as a “satellite state”, was Poland.
The aircraft involved:
The aircraft which is the main focus of this story was a 1970s built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23. More specifically it was a MiG-23M, nicknamed the “Flogger-B” by NATO. This aircraft was operated by the Soviet Air Forces at the time of the accident. It was registered simply as “29”.
The MiG-23 finds it’s origins in the 1960s as a fighter and fighter/bomber jet aircraft built by the Soviets.
The MiG-23M was the most produced variant of the MiG-23 line-up. This variant made it’s first flight in 1972. Around 1.300 were produced in total.
The MiG involved in the incident was stationed at Bagicz Air Base near Kołobrzeg in the North of the Polish People’s Republic or PRL (now Poland). This air base has since long been disused, and is in the modern day a slightly run down general aviation airfield.
The Lead-up Of Events:
At around 09:14 local time (UTC +1), Colonel Nikolai Skuridin, a pilot of the Soviet Air Forces, took off from Bagicz Air Base near Kołobrzeg for a routine training flight. it however, would turn out to not be so routine. Only about 41 seconds after the jet left the runway, the engine’s afterburner experienced an issue and failed. This caused a partial loss of power, and caused the jet to lose altitude.
About 150m (~500ft) above the ground, the pilot decided to eject from the aircraft, convinced he would not be able to save the jet. He would land safely back on the ground, but his plane did not end up where he thought it would.
It was expected that the jet would end up crashing into the Baltic Sea, but the engine kept running, and the jet gained altitude again. In fact, the MiG stayed on autopilot and kept flying without a pilot.
The Course Of The Flight:
Because the MiG took off in a Westerly direction, the autopilot continued to fly due West. This would soon put it over the then German Democratic Republic or GDR, more commonly know as East Germany or the DDR. At this point there was still no cause for alarm, as East Germany was of course still a part of the Soviet Union.
The jet, however, did not crash here. It continued in a straight line, and would soon cross over the iron curtain into the airspace of the then Federal Republic of Germany or FRG, more commonly known as West Germany or the FDR.
At around 09:40 local time (UTC +1), the jet was first picked up by a NATO radar station in Lüchow. Soon after the jet was detected, two U.S. Air Force McDonnell Douglas F-15 “Eagle” aircraft belonging to the 32nd Air Operations Squadron of the U.S. Air Force, took off from their station at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands at around 09:42 local time (UTC +1).
The pilots of the F-15 reported back at around 10:02 local time (UTC +1) that the MiG had no crew and that it’s canopy was missing.
The F-15 pilots continued to follow the aircraft. They soon crossed into Dutch airspace and they predicted it would fly over Belgium as well. Due to the densely populated area below the estimated flight path, the Belgian military along with the Belgian minister of national defence, decided they would have the aircraft shot down when it reached the North Sea.
However, the jet would never reach the North Sea. Somewhere above Belgium, the pilotless MiG ran out of fuel, killing the engine. The jet then slowly began to lose altitude while continuing a straight trajectory.
At roughly 10:37 local time (UTC +1), the MiG crashed into a residential building right between the towns of Bellegem and Kooigem, just south of Kortrijk on the Flemish-Walloon border.
Unfortunately, at the time the MiG crashed into the house, there was one occupant inside. This was an 18-year old student by the name of Wim Delaere. He was a student at the university of Kortrijk, studying computer science/information technology. He had just finished his first exam period and decided to sleep in late. He was killed instantly and the house was destroyed.
After more than one hour, having covered almost 1000km, the MiG was down.
The Delaere family was heartbroken, the Belgian people were concerned, NATO was angry and the Soviets… were silent. No word was heard from the Soviet side during this entire charade. No warning about the stray plane had been given.
The first official report from the Soviet Union came 12 hours after the accident. A day later, the then Soviet leader Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, who was on a state visit in Paris, sent out his condolences to the Belgians.
In November of 1989, the Soviet Union paid Belgium the equivalent of €625.000 in compensation. The majority of which went to the Delaere family.
That was the story of the Belgian Ghost MiG crash. I personally learned a lot while researching this fairly unknown event. It was all very fascinating and also quite saddening of course…
I decided I would try to make some Belgian history topics this year, do educate people on this small country’s vast aviation history.
Here are the sources I used for this story: