A drone that apparently flew undetected over several NATO countries all the way from the Ukrainian war zone has crashed on the outskirts of the Croatian capital Zagreb, triggering a loud blast but causing no injuries, Croatian authorities say.
A statement issued by Croatia’s government said the “pilotless military aircraft” entered Croatian airspace from neighbouring Hungary at a speed of 700 km/h and an altitude of 1300 metres.
The government said that an official criminal investigation will be launched and that NATO will be informed about the incident.
The crash means that the large drone flew for at least 560km apparently undetected by air defences in Croatia, Hungary and possibly Romania, all members of the NATO military alliance.
Military experts of The War Zone online magazine said that the aircraft is likely a Soviet-era Tu-141 Strizh reconnaissance drone that must have severely malfunctioned.
It said that Ukraine is the only known current operator of the Tu-141.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said “the serious incident” must be thoroughly investigated to determine “how a relatively unsophisticated drone flew for over an hour over NATO countries without being detected”.
He said that the drone crashed in Zagreb after running out of fuel.
The Croatian defence minister and the army chief of staff both described the drone incident as “serious” but said more details will be revealed after the ongoing investigation.
The two officials said at a news conference that Croatia responded last night with the closure of its airspace.
They said they have been in contact with neighbouring countries and NATO and refused to reveal whose drone it was.
“We can’t say at this moment whose it was. Those are relatively old-era flying objects that were used in the Soviet Union,” Chief of Staff Admiral Robert Hranj said.
“I can;t even say it flew from Ukraine without detailed analysis.”
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a social media post on Friday that Hungarian authorities were also investigating the crash.
“According to the information currently available, the airspace of several NATO member states, including Hungary, was involved in the drone flight,” he said.
Zagreb Mayor Tomislav Tomasevic said parts of the flying object are scattered in several locations.
He said authorities are working to determine how the incident happened and that initial findings indicated it was an accident.
“No one was hurt and that is good fortune,” Tomasevic said.
“It is a relatively big object… It is amazing that no one was hurt.”
The Croatian police said they came to the scene of the explosion on the outskirts of Zagreb after calls from local citizens.
They said they found a large crater and two parachutes in a wooded area.
Some parked cars were damaged.
Photos from the scene show metal pieces of the wreckage scattered on the ground, a parachute hanging from tree branches and what seems to be a section of a wing.
Police sealed off the area of the blast for investigation.
The Tu-141 has parachutes used for soft landings.
Witnesses quoted by the media said they first heard a large explosion that rocked the ground followed by a foul smell.