The MiG-29 plane crash in July that killed a pilot onboard in may have been caused by birds, Azerbaijan Defense Ministry has stated.
“A study of the causes of the air accident also showed that the aircraft collided with a foreign body (bird or flock of birds) in the air before it fell into the Caspian Sea, and as a result the pilot was injured,” the ministry statement read on Aug. 22.
Pilot Rashad Atakishiyev was killed in the crash that occurred around midnight on July 24.
The statement later adds that, “the pilot tried to regain control of the aircraft to avoid an accident. However, his injuries sustained in the first collision made it impossible and as a result, led to the crash of the aircraft.”
Questioning the reason for the crash was “a bird strike”, military analyst Isa Sadigov in a talk with BBC Azerbaijani called the ministry's statement “ridiculous.”
“The parts of the aircraft are said to have been found within a kilometer of the area. Pilot's body was also found from different places. If the aircraft collided with a bird, how could it explode and break the pilot's body into pieces?” Sadigov asked.
The ministry said that it could not comment on anything other than the information it had gathered based on the black box reports.
Sadigov claims the MiG-29 jets do not meet modern requirements. He says that this is the second time these military planes crashed in Azerbaijan, yet the government still continues to use them.
He believes it is more likely that the aircraft exploded, was hit, or the control system failed in the sky, and urges for “thorough investigation” of the incident.
Nevertheless, the ministry said in a statement that the aircraft before the crash “had been in working condition.”
Social media users have also raised their concerns over the incident, expressing disbelief that a bird could shatter a cockpit's glass, an even questioning the possibility of an attack.
“They cannot even say our aircraft and our pilot are likely to be shot,” Zohrab Ismayil said on Facebook on Aug. 22.
Support for the ministry's explanation was also apparent: Elcin Sultanov, an ornithologist at the Zoology Institute of the Academy of Sciences, explained that there are birds flying over the Caspian sea at nights and they are water birds.
“If the aircraft flies less than 10.000 meters, it is likely to collide with the bird,” Sultanov was quoted as saying by the RFE/RL.
Retired former military officer Telman Abilov has also said that birds can truly cause incidents but he thinks there are questions that need to be answered on the crash of the MiG-29 fighter jet.
“A collision with a bird should not cut off communication with the aircraft, however, the pilot was unable to provide any information. Sudden communication failure can be a technical failure too. Disconnection may also be due to external reasons. Such cases should probably be considered,” Abilov said.
While different versions continue to make the rounds on social media, the Defense Ministry has declined to comment further on the incident.