MOSCOW, September 16 (RIA Novosti)-Russia and NATO member country Lithuania have issued conflicting statements Friday about when a Russian military pilot whose plane crashed in Lithuania may return home.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "Russia is clarifying all the details of the incident, and is taking all the necessary measures to ensure that the pilot is returned to [his] homeland."
However, although the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had urged his Lithuanian counterpart to allow the pilot to return home "as soon as possible," a spokesman for the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said that neither 36-year-old Major Valery Troyanov nor the Su-27 Flanker's flight recorder would be handed over to Russia until an investigation into the incident had been completed.
The fighter bomber crashed about 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of Lithuania's second biggest city, Kuanas, apparently after navigation equipment failed. The pilot managed to eject to safety and no one was hurt in the incident.
The plane had been flying over the neutral waters of the Baltic Sea from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave between European Union member countries Poland and Lithuania, when it veered off course into Lithuanian airspace, according to the Lithuanian Defense Ministry's Web site. Two NATO F4 Phantom jets were scrambled from an airbase 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) north of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, but failed to reach the Russian plane, which was not seen on radars, before it crashed.
Since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO in April 2004, Danish, Belgian, British, Dutch and German jets have patrolled the airspace of the Baltic states.