Given the time that has elapsed and the temperature of the seawater, hope that Major Valentin Terziev, pilot of the MiG-29 that crashed into the Black Sea in the early hours of June 9, has survived is not big, caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev told a mid-afternoon news conference.
Nonetheless, the search and rescue operation was continuing, Yanev said.
Parts of the aircraft had been found but not the black box, he said.
Two working groups, involving the military prosecutor’s office and the military police, were investigating.
It was possible that in coming days allied forces specialised in such operations would be involved in the search for the remnants of the aircraft.
Terziev was an excellent pilot qualified as an instructor, Yanev said.
The caretaker Prime Minister took a sideswipe at previous governments that had left funding for the Air Force at the “sanitary minimum”.
Earlier, a Defence Ministry statement said two Panther helicopters, two corvettes, a minesweeper, a diving boat and a Border Police vessel were involved in the search, which is being conducted in waters 11km south-east of Shabla.
Terziev had been taking part in the Shabla 2021 tactical live-fire exercise that began on June 7 and now is suspended because of the crash.
More than 2000 service personnel from the armed forces of Bulgaria and the United States were participating. Also participating were anti-aircraft forces from Serbia. The exercise had been planned to continue for five days.
The live-fire exercise was under the command of Bulgarian Air Force second-in-command Brigadier General Petyo Mirchev.
The previous most recent crash of a Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29 was in 2012, the result of a technical malfunction. The pilot and co-pilot parachuted before the aircraft hit the ground.
The aircraft that Terziev was piloting dated from the late 1980s and was meant to have a service life up to 2029/2030.
In the early 2000s, Bulgaria modernised several of its Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets to meet the standards of Nato, which Bulgaria joined in 2004.
Since 2016, Bulgaria has spent several million euro on overhauling the engines of its ageing MiG-29s, of which it took delivery at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s. Those aircraft that are serviceable are used for policing the borders of Bulgarian air space and also are used for training.
The MiG-29s are intended to continue in service until Bulgaria has received all of the US Lockheed Martin-manufactured F-16V Block 70 Viper fighter jets that it has ordered.
In August 2019, Bulgaria transferred to the US the entire amount of $1.2 billion under international government procurement contracts to acquire eight F-16s – six single-seat and two two-seaters – and related equipment and armaments.
The first F-16 is to be delivered at the end of 2022, to be used for training Bulgarian Air Force pilots. The remainder are scheduled to arrive in stages in the years 2023 and 2024.
(Photo: Bulgarian Air Force)
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