MiG Fighter Pilots Died as Heroes, Attempting to Save Village

Captain-commander Laurenţiu Chiriţă and captain-commander Sorin Avram, both aged 40, lost their lives while trying to avoid the collision with several civilian houses, as their aircraft was plummetting towards the ground. They could have easily ejected from the falling plane, but this would have sent the craft hurdling out of control into a village. This is the most likely version to the incident that happened on Monday at Câmpia Turzii, Romania, as the pilots were returning from a weather reconnaissance mission aboard a Romanian MiG 21 Lancer jet fighter.

The airplane smashed into the ground only metres away from several civillian homes in the village of Călăraşi and less than a mile from the runway they were heading to for landing. According to eye-witness reports, the aircraft came very close to the ground, then pulled up abruptly and then came back nose down, diving into the earth.

The pilots had more than a thousand hours of flight, most of them on the same type of aircraft they met their death in. Chiriţă was also the commander of the 71 Airbase in Câmpia Turzii. Both pilots had received training from the US Airforce and were preparing for a joint exercise with their American counterparts, scheduled on Thursday.

The MiG 21 Lancer is the modernized version of the Soviet MiG 21, with enhanced avionics made by the Israeli company Elbit. All of Romania’s MiG 21 jet fighters have been grounded, until the cause of the accident is elucidated.

Romania has some 100 MiG 21 jet fighters, over 30 years old, but their flight resource will expire in 2012. The Romanian government had planned to purchase 24 F16 planes to replace them, but the crisis forced Romania to abandon the plan.

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