Human error behind NATO plane crash in Lithuania: probe

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Human error was to blame for an August collision between a Lithuanian military jet and a French plane policing its Baltic NATO allies' skies, investigators said Friday.

Presenting the findings of a commission of inquiry, the Lithuanian military said the pilots of both aircraft had misread the other's flight course differently.

"The crews in both aircraft interpreted the course of the flight differently. There was also insufficient attention given to visual observation of the aircraft during the flight," commission chairman Major Vilius Jurgelevicius told journalists.

The French Mirage 2000 jet and the Lithuanian L-39ZA Albatross collided while on a routine exercise patrol on August 30.

The two Lithuanian pilots ejected and were unhurt, while their jet crashed into a woodland swamp.

The French plane managed to land successfully.

The commission did not apportion blame.

"We don't have a scale to weigh whether one pilot was more mistaken than the other. I think it was a human situation in the air, where everything is decided in seconds," air force commander Major General Edvardas Mazeikis told journalists.

"People are not robots or machines, and can make mistakes," he added.

Under NATO rules, neither side should seek damage compensation, Mazeikis said, adding that the pilots were all experienced.

As Lithuania and fellow Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia lack the capability to patrol their own airspace, NATO planes from various member states carry out the task under a mission mandated through to 2014.

The Baltic states won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 and joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.

The trio, with a total population of 6.8 million and a professional military of 20,500, have rocky relations with former master Russia, which only withdrew its troops from their territories in 1994.

Planes bound for Russia's Kaliningrad territory have often strayed into Baltic airspace, and the NATO patrols are seen as a way to reaffirm the three nations' sovereignty over their skies.

© 2011 AFP

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