Turkey locates bodies of pilots of downed jet

ANKARA Wed Jul 4, 2012 8:55am EDT

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's armed forces command said on Wednesday it had found the bodies of both pilots of an F-4 jet shot down by Syria last month and was trying to retrieve them from the seabed.

Relations between Ankara and Damascus hit a new low after Syria shot down the Turkish reconnaissance plane over the Mediterranean on June 22, prompting a sharp rebuke from Turkey, which said it would respond "decisively".

Syria says it downed the jet in self-defense when it was inside Syrian airspace. Turkey says the plane accidentally violated Syrian airspace for a few minutes but was later brought down in international airspace.

The military has been searching for the pilots and this week brought in a specialized ship to recover the wreckage of their plane, some 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) underwater.

It named the pilots as Air Force Captain Gokhan Ertan and Air Force Lieutenant Hasan Huseyin Aksoy. The military did not specify where the bodies were found, but there has been no report that the pilots ejected from the plane.

Turkey has heightened military activity along its border with Syria since the incident and scrambled F-16 fighter jets on three consecutive days in the past week after it spotted Syrian transport helicopters flying near the Turkish border.

Ankara has said the shooting down would not go "unpunished" and summoned a meeting of its NATO allies shortly after the incident, but it has not retaliated. Both Syria and Turkey have said they do not want the incident to lead to an armed conflict.

In an interview with Turkish paper Cumhuriyet published on Tuesday, Assad said he wished his forces had not shot the jet down, repeating Damascus's position they had not known the identity of the plane at the time.

Turkey dismisses this assertion, saying the plane was unarmed, was not hiding its identity and was attacked without warning.

(Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
LynCe wrote:
Assad’s mea culpa is pathetic and inadequate and wholly unworthy of a leader, particularly a leader in the Levant.

Jul 04, 2012 10:45am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Fromkin wrote:
“Turkey dismisses this assertion, saying the plane was unarmed, was not hiding its identity and was attacked without warning.”

Did Turkey warn Syria a warplane will conducting some activities in the area?

How would the officer with an anti aircraft weapon know that the plane flying fast and low is unarmed and not trying to unload some nasty bombs?

Syria says Israel used the same corridor and tactics to hit it. So it reaction is understandable.

Why was the plane flying fast and low and hidden from radar screens?

The weapon that hit the plane has a maximum reach of 2.5km. This means the plane was hit way inside Syrian territorial waters.

The pentagon has confirmed Syrian version of the incident in a Wall Street journal article.

The fact that it was a simple anti aircraft gun and not a missile that hit the plane means that no higher Syrian autority intervened in the decision to gun down an intruding unidentified flying object.

Russian military officials have said that the plane flew illegally in the area not once but twice which only can mean that it was a provocation and the plane was literally begging to be hit.

Turkey has provoked an incident that it can used as a pretext for war…

Jul 04, 2012 12:55am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.