Unusual MiG interception by the 32nd Wolfhounds
The fourth of July, Independence Day has historically been one of America's
greatest holidays every year. And while the most of the men and women and
children associated with the 32nd TFS gathered at the infield between the bases
runway and the Wolfhounds squadron area to celebrate this special day, some 500
km to the east a Soviet MiG-23M Flogger-B part of the 871st Air Fighter Regiment
took off from runway 23 at Kolobrzeg (Колобжег) Air Base near Gdansk, Poland. At
the controls was Colonel Nikolai Skurigin (Н.Скуридин) taking off for
intercept training over the Baltic Sea. His MiG (#29) was loaded only
with 200 rounds of 23mm ammunition and full tanks. Suddenly just after raising
the landing gear at only about 400ft above the ground the afterburner abruptly
quit and in his mirrors Skurigin noticed smoke trailing his aircraft. The MiG
settled into a descent and convinced that he had an engine failure, the Russian
colonel quickly ejected from his disabled aircraft. As colonel Skurigin
descended safely to the ground via parachute the MiG pitched up slightly and
began a climb. Pointed southwest the Flogger climbed resolute at its trimmed
airspeed of 170 knots (take-off speed) flying across the northern part of East
Germany and arrowed NATO airspace.
|Through the NATO F-3 AWACS (call sign MAGIC) airborne at that time and 2 ATAF CRC’s the northern Sector Operations Center (SOC) saw the MiG approaching and when it crossed the Intra-German Border, the commander scrambled the Wolfhounds Eagles (callsigns AK01 and AK02). When the "Bee Bop" sounded in the ZULU hangar at Camp New Amsterdam, the captains J.D. "JD" Martin and Bill "Turf" Murphy initially thought that the only other Wolfhound on duty that day (the supervisor of flying (SOF)) was playing a trick on them, but they responded anyway. When "JD" blasted down runway 13 with "Turf" only 15 seconds behind, the crowd of Wolfhounds families thought they were being given an impromptu air show in honour of the holiday. When they got airborne and checked in TAD, they could not get a word in edgewise. There were at least three other GCI's agencies, each one thinking they had control of the flight and all four of them not hearing each other on the ground. But the problem was that the pilots on their high altitude were hearing every transmission from all of them. But since all transmission was all being "stepped on" it was very effective jamming. So due the jamming they were airborne for quite some time before they even knew the actual sector toward the bogey.|
|In fact they had already levelled off 35.000 and accelerated to supersonic speed on that northeaster fly vector when they received the first piece of intelligible instructions from GCI. That's when they were told to "snap" to the right about 60-70 degrees, prior to the snap the aircraft radars were pointed such that they were not even looking at the bogey. After snapping right, were immediately radar locks. Based on the short range contact and incredibly fast speed they were tally-ho bogey in less than a minute. Meanwhile the constant jamming just would not end. The pilots were constantly bombarded by four different agencies unable to make out any one of them dead. Finally "JD" had enough and as loudly he could he said he only wants to talk to one agency BANDBOX and that he rest had to shut up.|
The pilots saw that the canopy, as well the pilot was missing. When they told GCI that they just had intercepted a Flogger and that the pilot was missing, the reaction was "Say, again". And that went on a dozen times, finally they believed the Wolfhounds. At the initial intercept the Flogger was at 35000ft and now at 39500ft it topped out and smoke and a vapour trail arise. At that point the pilots were given clearance to arm hot and to engage. However, the engage clearance was qualified with something to the effect of “only engage if you believe doing so will result in damage on the ground than simply letting the aircraft crash on its own”. "JD" and "Turf" inter-flight chatted on the AUX UHF about what to do and when. The Flogger was heading for the city of Lille, France and they decided if they believe the jet would reach the city they would fire on it prior to the city limits in order to at least keep the wreckage on the outside of the city.
|Eventually it was unnecessary because the MiG ran out of fuel and crashed into a farmhouse in the town of Bellegem (municipal borough of Kortrijk), Belgium, killing the 18-year old Wim De Laere in the house. The Wolfhounds stayed on scene another 10-15 minutes or so until reaching BINGO fuel and returned to Soesterberg. More than 150 people were evacuated from the village as precaution against any leakage of potentially dangerous chemicals aboard the plane. Fire-fighters fought the flames for more than an hour. Soviet experts were admitted to the crash site. After investigations the Belgian Army took the wreckage to an Air Force depot near Brussels, on July 14 a Soviet transport plane arrived in Brussels to take home the wreckage of the fighter.|
The Belgian government made formal protest to the Soviet Union regarding the lack of notification as to the danger the aircraft posed to the civilian population. Belgian Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens expressed concern that "from the time the MiG-23 was first picked up on NATO radar to the time it crashed more than an hour later, no word of warning came from the Soviet side," and that "there was also a notable slowness on the part of the Soviets in disclosing whether the jet was carrying nuclear or toxic weapons". Soviet Ambassador to Belgium F. P. Bogdanov brought an official apology to Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, he expressed sympathy for the family of the Belgian citizen that was killed in the incident and announced that the Soviet Union will compensate for material losses suffered by the crash. The Soviet Union paid $ 685,000 Belgium as compensation for the destruction. Pilot Nikolai Skurigin says he sent letter to parents of boy killed by jet that he abandoned.
The sadness of the innocent death notwithstanding the ZULU log entry for that day is succinct: "Nice Alpha scramble today that we're under order to kill you if we talk about it "JD".