The Story Of A Pilotless Soviet MIG-23 Over Belgium

July 4, 1989 was an Independence Day to remember for the U.S. Air Force 32nd Tactical Fight Squadron based at Soesterberg AFB in the Netherlands. As Captains J. D. Martin and Bill Murphy were scrambled in their F-15C Eagle fighter jets, they couldn’t imagine that their mission was to intercept a very strange MIG. A Soviet MIG-23M and its pilot, Col. Nikolai Skurigin, had taken off for a routine training mission from Kolobzreg in Poland, but during the mission, the MIG suffered what seemed to be an engine failure that forced Skurigin to eject from his jet. Because the MIG’s engine still had some residual power, instead of descending it began to climb towards NATO airspace. That’s when Martin and Murphy were scrambled to intercept. To their surprise, they found that the plane was not only unarmed, but also unmanned. Pilotless and escorted by two F-15s, the MIG climbed to 39,500 feet before it ran out of fuel and plummeted to the ground. Unfortunately the aircraft hit a farm in Belgium, killing an 18-year old resident.