The plane caught fire shortly after takeoff from the Graf Ignatievo air force base, the Defense Ministry in Sofia said in a statement today. Its two pilots were instructed to direct the aircraft toward an unpopulated area and eject. The MiG-29 fell between the villages of Tsarimir and Goliam Chardak and there are no civilian casualties, the ministry said.
Defense Minister Anyu Angelov and emergency crews are at the crash site. The two pilots were rescued by helicopter and taken to hospital, where one was diagnosed with back injuries.
“We are lucky there are no casualties,” Angelov told reporters today. “The cause of the accident is being investigated and airforce flights are canceled.”
The Soviet-era aircraft was training for an exercise with the 31st U.S. Air Force Squadron based in Aviano, Italy, planned for April 29. The exercise was canceled after the crash, the ministry said.
Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest state in terms of per-capita economic output, has delayed plans to purchase new military aircraft needed to meet North Atlantic Treaty Organization requirements. Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004.
Bulgaria has 15 MiG-29 fighters, which it plans to use until their service life expires in 2029. Its military fleet also includes Soviet-era MiG-21 and SU-25 fighters.