The incident started as a routine training flight. Colonel Nikolai Skuridin, the pilot, departed from the Soviet Bagicz Airbase near Kołobrzeg, Poland. During takeoff, the afterburner failed and the engine began losing power. At an altitude of 150 meters and descending, the pilot assumed he had a complete engine failure and ejected without incident. The engine had not failed completely, and the aircraft remained airborne, flying on autopilot in a westerly direction. The unmanned aircraft left Polish airspace, crossing into the airspace of East Germany and then West Germany, where it was intercepted by a pair of U.S. Air ForceF-15s of the 32d Tactical Fighter Squadron, of the United States Air Forces Europe, stationed at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands. As the MiG-23 crossed into Dutch airspace the F-15 pilots reported the plane having no pilot "There is definitely no pilot in the plane" and continued the intercept into Belgian airspace. The escorting F-15s were instructed to down the plane over the North Sea. As the MiG ran out of fuel, it started a slow turn to the south. The French Air Force put armed Mirage fighters on readiness in case the MiG approached French territory. After flying over 560 miles the MiG crashed into a house, killing a Belgian teenager.
The Belgian government made formal protest to the Soviet Union regarding the lack of notification as to the danger the aircraft posed to the civilian population. Belgian Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens expressed concern that "from the time the MiG-23 was first picked up on NATO radar to the time it crashed more than an hour later, no word of warning came from the Soviet side," and that "there was also a notable slowness on the part of the Soviets in disclosing whether the jet was carrying nuclear or toxic weapons."