A Russian fighter plane flew within five feet of a United States Navy surveillance aircraft Monday. The close encounter, which the U.S. Navy labeled “unsafe,” happened as the American plane was flying in international airspace above the Black Sea.
The encounter involved a Russian SU-27 fighter jet and a U.S. EP-3 Aries aircraft. The U.S. Navy said its plane was operating within the bounds of international law and did not do anything to provoke Russian activity.
“This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-27 closing to within five feet and crossing directly through the EP-3’s flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the SU-27’s jet wash,” said the U.S. Navy in a statement.
According to Pentagon spokeswoman Capt. Pamela Kunze, the Russian military has the right to fly in the international airspace over the Black Sea, but it “must behave within international standards set to ensure safety and prevent incidents.”
On Monday evening, the U.S. State Department issued a statement, noting the incident with the “highest level of concern.” The department claimed that while the American aircraft operated under the international law, the Russian side flagrantly violated existing agreements, such as the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas.
“We call on Russia to cease these unsafe actions that increase the risk of miscalculation, danger to aircrew on both sides, and midair collisions,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
The incident is the latest in a string of close encounters between American and Russian aircrafts over the Black Sea following Russia’s forced annexation of Crimea in 2014.
In November, a Russian fighter plane came within 50 feet of a Navy reconnaissance plane. In May, another Russian plane flew within 20 feet of an American spy plane. In September 2016, another Russian Su-27 flew within 10 feet of a U.S. Navy plane