A US Navy reconnaissance plane flew hours after the first damage was detected near the site of the ruptured Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea, according to data reviewed by Reuters.
Russia’s Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines burst on September 26, spilling gas into the Baltic Sea off the coast of Denmark and Sweden. Seismologists registered explosions in the area, and the police in several countries have launched an investigation.
Flight records showed that a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft was over the North Sea at 0003 GMT when Swedish seismologists recorded what they later described as a submarine explosion southeast of the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea.
The plane, which had flown from Iceland, performed a pattern of regular racetrack-shaped circuits over Poland before breaking off towards the Baltic pipeline region, the data showed.
The plane’s identity could not be immediately established due to the type of rotating identification code sometimes used by such aircraft, but the US Navy confirmed it was a US plane when the data was presented by Reuters.
“The US Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft featured in the tracking data was conducting a routine maritime reconnaissance flight in the Baltic Sea, unrelated to the Nord Stream pipeline leaks,” a US spokesman said.
Asked if the information gathered could help investigators investigate the pipeline breaks, US Naval Forces Europe-Africa spokeswoman Capt. Tamara Lawrence said: “We are unable to provide additional information at this time.”
It is unclear what role, if any, the US military will play in the European investigation into the pipeline breaks, although President Joe Biden has discussed sending divers if necessary.
According to the records, the plane took off several minutes after 0100 GMT south of Bornholm towards northwestern Poland, where it circled over land for about an hour before flying to the area where the gas leak was reported around 0244 GMT.
It came as close as about 15 miles (24 km) to the reported leak site, circled once and flew toward the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, a common focus of surveillance, analysts said.
The Polish, Swedish, Danish and German defense ministries were not immediately available for comment.
Flight data is missing between 0339 GMT and 0620 GMT, but on the way back, around 0700 GMT, the aircraft flew about 4 km north of the reported leak site.
Reuters used a partial flight map from US-based tracking website Radarbox, supplemented by data provided to Reuters by Sweden-based Flightradar24, to reconstruct the P-8’s path.
Flightradar24’s data showed the plane had taken off and landed on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland, where Keflavik Air Force Base is located, along with reported P-8 hangar facilities.
The data emerged as the Baltic Sea remains a front for Cold War-like tensions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to analysts who caution that it is impossible to pinpoint the cause behind specific military flight paths.
“The Baltic Sea is a very active area of confrontation with lots of noise and endless chess,” said British defense analyst Francis Tusa.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Thursday that the pipeline break was “most likely” the work of Russian special services, citing information from Western allies.
Western governments and officials have so far avoided pointing the finger directly at Moscow, while Russia has dismissed any accusation of responsibility as “stupid” and instead blamed the United States and its allies.