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Russian Fighter Made 'High Speed Pass' In Front Of U.S. Spy Plane

A Russian fighter jet made two close passes as it intercepted a U.S. EP-3 Aries reconnaissance plane, the U.S. Navy says, releasing video of what it called an unsafe and irresponsible encounter. Russia's military says the Su-27 "escorted" the spy plane away over neutral waters in the Black Sea. But the U.S. says the fighter crossed directly in front of the spy plane.

Russia's Defense Ministry says the fighter jet approached "at a safe distance" to identify the turboprop plane. But the U.S. Navy posted a video taken from the American signals-intercept craft showing the Su-27 roaring alongside, "applying its afterburner while conducting a banking turn away."

It was the second of two passes in an encounter that lasted around 25 minutes, the Navy said. The two planes met up on Monday, around 10 a.m. local time.

"This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the Su-27 conducting a high speed pass directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk," the Navy said.

Aboard the EP-3, the American "reported turbulence following the first interaction, and vibrations from the second," the Navy said.

The Russian defense agency says its fighter was scrambled from its base as an unknown plane approached Russian airspace. After it identified the U.S. craft, it "escorted it away from the airspace of the Russian Federation in compliance with all security and safety requirements."

But the American service says, "The U.S. aircraft was operating in accordance with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity." And the Navy also cited the risk posed to all parties in close intercept maneuvers.

The incident comes months after Russian military jets buzzed the U.S. guided-missile destroyer Porter in February — an episode that also included "a number of intercepts of U.S. aircraft by Russian aircraft and an intercept of a Russian aircraft by another NATO-flagged aircraft," the Pentagon said at the time, according to

An EP-3 was involved in a famous collision in 2001, when one of the spy planes was hit by a Chinese military jet as it flew over the South China Sea. The Chinese pilot died; the U.S. crew managed to land their crippled plane, packed with electronics gear, on China's Hainan Island — a development that is believed to have exposed sensitive technology and information.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.