Authorities in Serbia have launched an urgent investigation after two military Hellfire missiles bound for the US were allegedly found among luggage unloaded from a passenger plane.
The Hellfire missile is a US-designed, high-explosive “tank busting” air-to-ground weapon fired from helicopter gunships, fighter jets and drones to defeat armoured fighting vehicles.
NBC News in the US quoted Belgrade prosecutor’s spokesman Ivan Markovic saying an Air Serbia flight transported the missiles last weekend from the Lebanese capital of Beirut to Belgrade. Air Serbia uses Airbus A319s to fly the route. The flight is a little over two hours.
Lockheed Martin Longbow Hellfire missile
Obviously, missiles should not be carried on a passenger aircraft where passengers are prohibited on safety grounds even from bringing aerosol containers, scissors or golf clubs aboard.
The missiles were on their way to Portland, Oregon, Markovic said. Reports suggest they were found by a sniffer dog.
While a Hellfire missile could demolish a plane – or even a whole air terminal– there are suggestions these missiles may have been inert “dummies” used for training purposes, rather than live weapons. That’s being investigated.
They were being transported inside wooden crates and were to be transferred from an Air Serbia plane to another aircraft, a Belgrade prosecutor’s office source told Reuters.
In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that a training missile without a warhead was accidentally shipped to Cuba in 2014 after a training mission in Europe. The dummy missile was later returned.
Written by Peter Needham