Update: Reports now confirm a Russian rescue helicopter was shot down by U.S.-backed Syrian rebels while searching for its missing pilots.
The Turkish army shot down a Russian war plane using two F-16s on Tuesday after claiming its airspace was violated 10 times within a five-minute period, according to reports; however, Russia begs to differ, arguing that its aircraft did not leave Syrian airspace.
Two Russian pilots were able to eject themselves from the plane, but were shot dead by Syrian Turkmen forces as they descended via parachutes. “Both of the pilots were retrieved dead. Our comrades opened fire into the air and they died in the air,” said Alpaslan Celik, a deputy commander in a Turkmen rebel brigade who claimed to be in possession of part of the pilot’s parachutes.
President Vladimir Putin responded angrily, warning that Turkey’s aggression would have “serious consequences,” adding that the strike by Turkish forces was “a stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists.”
Putin threatens “serious consequences”
Putin insists the plane “did not in any way threaten Turkey” and remained in Syrian territory as it crashed 2.5 miles from the Turkish border. “Today’s tragic event will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations,” said the Russian president.
Tensions in the region continue to escalate as Syria’s skies are now occupied by military aircraft from Russia, the U.S., France, Turkey and several Gulf states. The downing of a Russian war plane by a NATO member’s armed forces is the first occurrence since the 1950s.
For the first time since World War Two, Russian and NATO planes have been occupying the same airspace after Putin decided to launch air strikes in Syria, “targeting various insurgent groups close to Turkish borders,” according to Reuters.
Turkey says it warned Russia 10 times before shooting down its war plane
Reuters further reported:
Footage from private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV showed the warplane going down in flames in a woodland area, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it. The plane went down in area known by Turks as “Turkmen Mountain”, it said.
Separate footage from Turkey’s Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed. … A video sent to Reuters earlier appeared to show one of the pilots immobile and badly wounded on the ground and an official from the group said he was dead.
Russia’s defense ministry said one of its Su-24 fighter jets had been downed in Syria and that, according to preliminary information, the pilots were able to eject.
“For the entire duration of the flight, the aircraft was exclusively over Syrian territory,” it said.
The Turkish military said the aircraft had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish air space. Officials said a second plane had also approached the border and been warned.
“The data we have is very clear. There were two planes approaching our border, we warned them as they were getting too close,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters.
“The data we have is very clear”
“We warned them to avoid entering Turkish air space before they did, and we warned them many times. Our findings show clearly that Turkish air space was violated multiple times. And they violated it knowingly,” the official said.
A second official said the incident was not an action against any specific country but a move to defend Turkey’s sovereign territory within its rules of engagement.