Seven servicemen were killed when the IAR 330-Puma helicopter carrying them crashed near the Black Sea, in Romania, while they were taking part in a search and rescue operation to locate a Mig-21 fighter whose pilot is still missing.

It is noted that the fighter was also flying in the Black Sea region where Russian naval forces are deployed.

Romania, once a member of the Warsaw Pact the Soviet bloc is at the forefront of NATOs tensions with Russia as reinforcements continue to be deployed in the eastern wing of the Atlantic alliance.

About a thousand US military personnel were sent in February as reinforcements from Washington to the Michael Kogalniceanu base (southeast).

They will be joined this week by more than 500 French soldiers whose deployment has been accelerated by the Russian intervention in Ukraine.

From this very base, near the strategically important Black Sea, a fighter jet took off shortly after 20:00 (local time and Greek time) yesterday for a patrol.

The pilot, whose nationality was not disclosed, lost contact with the control tower very quickly and the fighter disappeared from radar due to bad weather conditions.

A helicopter that took off immediately after from a nearby airport had the same fate crashed about 11 kilometers from there.

The five crew members and two members of the Romanian Navy specialised in sea rescue operations, who participated in the mission, were killed.

Operations to locate the MiG-21 pilot are still ongoing,” General Constantine Spanu, a spokesman for the defence ministry, told Romanian television networks.

It is premature to talk about the causes of the accident. The meteorological conditions were unfavourable, but we cannot comment at this stage,” he continued, announcing that two investigation committees had been formed. “Nothing could be done to save the crewof the helicopter, he added.

Romanian President Klaus Johanis called it atragic night for the Romanian Air Force, adding that his thoughts are withthe bereaved families.

Romania experienced another deadly crash on 5 July 2010: twelve military personnel were lost when an AN-2 aircraft crashed and caught fire shortly after taking off from the airport in Tuzla (east). The aircraft was to perform a training flight.

Twenty days later, six Israeli soldiers and a Romanian soldier died when the helicopter they were in crashed near Brasov, in the central part of the country

NATOs advanced position

The obsolete MiGs, a legacy of the Soviet era, are considered the backbone of the Romanian Air Force, which continues to use them mainly for interceptor missions.

Bucharest has been investing billions of euros for several years to modernise the equipment of the Romanian armed forces, against the background of regional tensions following Russias recovery of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of the war in eastern Ukraine, which have been intensifying in recent months as the Russian-Ukrainian war has broken out.

Romania is a member of the European Union and NATO. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin is demanding that the Atlantic Alliance forces be withdrawn from all countries that joined the alliance after 1997.

Moscow is specifically targeting the NATO missile defence system installed in Romania. Russia sees it as a threat. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation counters that it has an exclusively defensive purpose.

This anti-missile shield, installed in 2016 in Deveselu (south), consists of SM-2 interceptor missiles.