Lithuanian jet in mid-air collision

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The Independent Online

A Lithuanian military plane has crashed after colliding in mid-air with a French Nato jet, officials said.

The French Mirage fighter landed safely after the collision with the Lithuanian L-39 Albatros combat training aircraft near the Zokniai air base in northern Lithuania.

The Lithuanian pilots ejected and were taken to hospital.

France has fighter jets based at Zokniai, 135 miles north-west of the capital Vilnius, as part of Nato's air patrols over the Baltic countries.

In rotating missions introduced after Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined the alliance in 2004, larger Nato countries take turns policing the skies over the Baltic countries, who all border Russia, because they do not have any significant air defence resources of their own.

French military spokesman Col Thierry Burkhard said the accident happened during a patrol flight involving two Mirage 2000C jets and the Lithuanian aircraft.

"During the patrol, there was a collision between two aircraft - one French and the Lithuanian - and this led to the ejection of the two Lithuanian pilots, and the two French planes landed," he said.

"The two Lithuanian pilots were recovered, and are safe and sound, and they are on the way to a local hospital for a check, and the two French pilots are safe and sound naturally because they were able to land," Col Burkhard said.

Lithuanian armed forces spokesman Skomantas Povilionis confirmed both pilots were found alive but did not give details on their condition.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius promised a full investigation into the accident.

Col Burkhard said it would not change anything in France's role in the Nato operation, carried out from a base near the northern town of Siauliai. Several training flights occur each week, he said.