A small twin-engine plane has flown over half of Eastern Europe with two people “who spoke Russian” on board, without authorization, with the transponder turned off and managing to flee from military planes. The two passengers even threatened the owner of a small runway in Hungary, where they landed to refuel and took off again.

There are still many points to clarify about what happened and several international intelligence agencies are involved in the investigation. Not only is the identity of the Russian-speakers on board unknown, but the exact route taken by the plane is also unknown. What is known is that it was a six-seater Piper PA-23-250-Aztec that had been immobilized in Lithuania for some time and that its owner was eager to get rid of. Apparently, the plane flew over the skies of Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria for a few hours at low altitude and trying to go unnoticed -although in vain-.

It all started at the end of May when Bronius Zaromskis, director of the small Lithuanian Nida airport, contacted a person interested in buying his small Piper plane, registered as Ly-Loo, which had been for sale and unused for several years. “Three people arrived, inspected the aircraft and decided to buy it,” Zaromskis told local television Rrt. According to him, none of the three was identified because they made the transaction through a ghost company.

“I can’t tell where the buyers were from. Maybe they were Ukrainian, Romanian or Bulgarian, but I used to speak to them in Russian,” he recalls. What he does know for sure is that “they were definitely not Lithuanians.”

The delivery of the aircraft took place in Panevezys, in Lithuania. At Nida airport, which is only a few minutes drive from the border with Kaliningrad (Russia). “I’ve been trying to sell the plane for years, I had nowhere to store it, so I’m glad someone bought it,” he adds.

It was June 8 when two of the three unidentified men got into the Piper, started its engines and took off. Oro Navigacija, the company that manages air traffic in Lithuania, has confirmed that the takeoff took place that day in the country, but has not said from where. In any case, it is known that it was not from any of the three main airports in the country (in Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga), so it is suspected that it could have taken off from the Panevezys runway. In addition, the two passengers did not present any flight plan, did not have authorization to travel and never contacted the Lithuanian air traffic controllers.

The Piper flew unseen – not even by the anti-intrusion systems that have been installed in recent months in Eastern Europe – until it turned up in Slovakia. From there it entered Hungarian airspace shortly before lunchtime. There they landed at Hajdúszoboszló regional airport also without permission and threatened one of its employees, who called the police. However, when the agents arrived, the plane took off again, around 5:30 p.m.

It was at that moment that at 5:38 p.m. two Hungarian military fighters managed to intercept the Piper, tried to establish contact with the aircraft (without success) and did not even respond to the coded messages typical of emergencies. The passengers continued with their transponders turned off and were flying low. At 5:48 p.m. the plane entered Romania, according to several local media, but the Hungarian fighters were also able to track them in that country thanks to an agreement between the two countries.

Ten minutes later, the F-16s of the US Armed Forces based in Fetesti appeared, before leaving the chase in the hands of the Romanian F-16s at around 6:42 p.m. In all that time they failed to establish any contact with the plane and it has not been clarified why the military planes did nothing else to accompany the aircraft to the ground.

In any case, the Piper entered Serbian airspace for a couple of minutes and at 7:09 p.m. it flew over the sky of Bulgaria, where, however, Sofia did not send any aircraft because “at no time did the aircraft pose a threat to civil infrastructure and the country’s military,” Bulgarian Defense Minister Dragomir Zakov later explained at a press conference. The Piper landed, hours later, in Targovishte, near Buhovsti, in northeastern Bulgaria. However, there is still no trace of its occupants.

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