In a bizarre incident on Thursday evening in Zagreb an unidentified crashed into a residential area in the Jarun neighborhood, leaving a large crater behind, with eyewitnesses reporting seeing parachutes and what looked like aircraft debris. Although there has been no official statement from the country's authorities as of Friday morning, local media, citing military analysts, speculate that the craft is likely to have been an Ukrainian Soviet-era drone.
The crash, which occurred shortly after 11 pm on Thursday evening, was accompanied by a loud noise. Police confirmed that the impact has left a 3-meter crater in a local road, and that two parachutes stuck in nearby trees have also been recovered. There were no reported injuries, although several parked cars have been damaged by the debris.
By Friday morning, the area has been cordoned off, with local authorities issuing a short press release saying that “there’s no reason to panic” and that further investigation is under way. Soon after the mysterious crash, photos and videos of the debris from the crash site began circulating on social media, finding their way to online sleuths and military analysts who identified the aircraft as a Soviet-era drone.
Aviation expert and editor-in-chief of a military technology website The War Zone, Tyler Rogoway, wrote that he “strongly believes” that the craft was a Tu-141 Strizh reconnaissance drone which the Soviet army had used in the 1970s and 1980s. Ukraine, which is currently fighting a Russian invasion, is the only known operator of the missile-like aircraft, although the Russian military also has some units in storage.
The missile-like Tu-141 can fly at transonic speeds and is designed to collect intelligence along a predetermined flight path. After finishing the flight, the drone, which weighs more than 6 tons, is designed to land with the help of two parachutes, so it can be recovered and reused. It reportedly has a range of about 1,000 kilometers, which means it might have been launched from western Ukraine of southern Belarus.
“It must have severely malfunctioned and crossed over the entirety of Hungary or parts of neighboring countries and into Croatia from Ukraine… It has been reported that Ukraine has been putting the high-speed, Soviet-era drones to work in recent days following Russia’s invasion of the country,” Rogoway wrote.
Another possible explanation suggested by Rogoway is that Russia might have used one of their own old Tu-141 pulled out of storage to use as decoys in the ongoing invasion in Ukraine.
As of Friday morning, little else is known about the crash. Local media and analysts are now raising questions about Nato capabilities as it would seem that a 14-meters-long 6-ton missile can travel hundreds of kilometers through the airspace of one or several Nato countries without being detected.
Meanwhile, users on Croatian social media began speculating jokingly that the drone’s operators might have simply mistyped the intended target, as Zagreb’s Jarun neighborhood shares the same name as Yarun, a town in Ukraine some 200 kilometers west of Kyiv.