The shocking detail is that, contrary to what was publically claimed from both sides, both the pilot and the WSO (Weapon System Officer) survived the crash by ejecting from the plane and were later executed by the regime of Syrian President Assad.
Turkey’s armed forces said they had found and later recovered the bodies of both pilots on the Mediterranean seabed: in fact there were no reports of the crew ejecting from the plane thus it was quite reasonable that they were still inside the wreckage.
However, provided that the document obtained by Al Arabiya is authentic, a confidential note sent from the Assad’s presidential office states that:
“Two Turkish pilots were captured by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence after their jet was shot down in coordination with the Russian naval base in (the Syrian city of) Tartus.”
The same document orders to treat both pilots according to the protocol of war prisoners, and also suggests the possibility to move them into Lebanon and leave them in the custody of Hezbollah.
Another leaked document, also sent from the presidential office reads:
“Based on information and guidance from the Russian leadership comes a need to eliminate the two Turkish pilots detained by the Special Operations Unit in a natural way and their bodies need to be returned to the crash site in international waters.”
Therefore, the two pilots were not killed by the crash, but by President Assad.
Although the alternative narrative surfacing by way of these leaked document is reasonable, it must be noticed that Damascus took a serious risk by staging the fake death of the crew in the crash.
First, the Turkish armed forces immediately dispatched vessels in the crash area that could find evidence of the ejections.
Second, Ankara recovered and studied part of the wreckage, crew members flight gear: material that could prove that both pilots ejected before the aircraft crashed into the water.
Third, Turkey, the U.S. and (most probably) Israel have been constantly monitoring Syrian armed forces movements and communications. An RC-135 spyplane was noted in the region at the time of the shooting. It’s hard to believe no spyplane, intelligence gathering platform or military combat plane in the area has intercepted the emergency beacon/locator radioed by the ejection seats of the downed Phantom.
According to the official report, the missile (fired by a SAM battery) exploded near the left engine nozzle, when the aircraft was still in international airspace (35.48.2N 35.33.21E), at 7,400 feet altitude, flying parallel to the Syrian border with a heading of 211°.
No technical malfunction or failure occurred prior to the missile’s explosion.
The blast caused a sudden loss of control: the aircraft banked to the left and crashed into the sea at 8.6 nautical miles from the Syrian coast (35.48.26N 35.37.59E). A missile alert signal was recorded by the Radar Warning Receiver.
Although a previous report said that the remains of the aircraft collected had not provided evidence of any organic or inorganic explosive residues, any fire initiator or accelerator substances which are derivatives of petroleum, and there was no sign of an ammunition remnant, traces of potassium chlorate, used in warheads and propellants as oxidizer, RDX (Hexogen), HNX (Octogen), TNT (2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene) and PETN (Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate) were found on the wreckage.
Hence, the new official version by Ankara is that the aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile (an SA-3 or modified SA-2 as suggested by ACIG.org Editor Tom Cooper).
However, Turkish claims are still a bit confusing.
On Jun. 22, Turkey said that one of their planes had been gunned down by Syrian armed forces (a version backed by U.S. intelligence sources) even though they later claimed it was hit by a SAM missile. On Jul. 12 they released a statement according to which the parts of the airplane recovered by the sea did not have traces of explosives. Latest report says the plane was not hit but crashed as a consequence of a missile blast near its rear.
This is more or less what emerges from the latest news released by the Turkish Armed Forces.
According to the report by the Presidency of the Gendarmerie Criminal Department, the remains of the aircraft collected on the water surface did not provide evidence of any organic or inorganic explosive residues, any fire initiator or accelerator substances which are derivatives of petroleum, and there is no sign of an ammunition remnant.
To make it simple: it was neither a missile nor gun fire. Therefore, it could have been a technical malfunction or a sudden emergency that did not give the crew the time to radio the alert.
But it is quite unlikely. After experiencing the failure, the pilot headed towards Syria. A decision that proves that the two on board had the time to react to situation, no matter which one it was.
Also a bit confusing are the claims by Ankara.
On Jun. 22, Turkey said that one of their planes had been gunned down by Syrian armed forces even though they later claimed it was hit by a SAM missile. Today the latest Turkish official release states that “the plane which was gunned down by the Syrian armed forces, according to the Syrian official authorities” [highlight mine].
The saga continues.
An F-4E flying at night. Image credit: Turkish Air Force
After announcing that the remains of the two missing aircrews were recovered from sea (that proved that the aircraft was not a drone), the Turkish Armed Forces released the first images of the debris of the RF-4E Phantom downed by Syria on Jun. 22, recovered by the NAUTILUS research vessel at a depth of 1,260 meters.
As a result of the research campaign launched in the aftermath of the incident, several items considered to belong to the missing plane were either recovered or filmed including the flight helmets of the pilot and WSO (Weapon System Officer), the boots (among the item collected on the sea surface), some cockpit instruments, ejection seat parts (cushions, handle), landing gear parts, engine and so on.
Noteworthy, a lot of parts are still missing (or at least, the images were not released yet): I’m curious to see whether there are some showing holes that would indicate that the plane was really gunned down as Syria and the U.S. (whose RC-135 spyplane was noted in the region at the time of the shooting) affirm, or there debris with signs of fire proving that it was hit by a surface to air missile, as claimed by Ankara.
Someone found it curious that some parts, as the flight helmets or the boots, were floating on the sea surface. However, this is probably due to the fact that the flight helmets are made of kevlar, hence not heavy enough to sink.
Here’s the map showing the locations were the parts were recovered:
Among the hundreds hints, a few suggested that the Phantom downed in mysterious circumstances by a Syrian anti-aircraft artillery off Latakia, was actually a remotely controlled aircraft (a drone), being used to either spying on Assad’s regime activities in northern Syria, or probing Damascus air defenses, as suggested by a NATO pilot and reportedly routinely done in the Aegean with the Greek ones.
Although the chances that Ankara has modified one its Phantoms to be remotely piloted and used for covert missions inside the Syrian airspace seem to be scarce, I can’t completely rule out the possibility that a sort-of QF-4 (the U.S. aerial target drone F-4) is (or was) flying with the Turkish Air Force.
The TuAF operates the Anka drones, a family of unmanned aerial vehicles (with configuration and size comparable to the MQ-1 and MQ-9) developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) for use by Turkey’s Air Force.
According to some sources, with some U.S. help (Americans play a role in almost all conspiracy theories…) TAI could have modified some of its Phantoms to perform unmanned, dangerous spying missions, in which a much faster type of aircraft, offering a higher sensors payload, is needed.
However, it’s just an intriguing theory that was probably fueled by the mysterious flight path of the plane (that included a leg well inside the “enemy airspace”) and, above all, the fact that neither the bodies nor remains of the RF-4E crew members (whose names were released) were recovered since the search and rescue operation was launched in the aftermath of the downing.
In the meanwhile, the Ankara has released new and even more detailed data about the downed plane [that used radio callsign "Safak 46"] on Jul. 1 in response to the WSJ article that quoted U.S. intelligence sources that backed the Syrian account of the incident.
Here’s a rough translation of the Turkish General Staff statement:
1. The statement is needed to answer the claims based on the story published by foreign press organs about the downing of the aircraft by Syria in international airspace on Jun. 22, 2012.
2. As already stated several times before, the aircraft was shot down in international airspace while flying as a single plane, an unarmed flight mission to test existing radar installations in the region.
3. According with our radar data, and as a result of our investigations: the aircraft took off from Erhac / Malatya at 1030, vectored towards Eastern Mediterranean, approached waypoint #1 at 11:06 local time started to cruise at an altitude of 21,400ft. The aircraft approached waypoint #2 at 11:14 at 8,600ft, waypoint #3 at 11:23 at 7,500ft, waypoint #4 at 11:37 at 2,000ft and return leg for a second test run at 11:50 at 3,000ft. Violation of Syrian airspace lasted about 5 minutes. According to the analysis of radar track and radio comms during the second leg approaching waypoint #4 the aircraft suddenly lost altitude at 7,400 feet altitude at 11:56 and contact was lost at 11:57, in international airspace.
4. Immediately after, a search and rescue mission started and a public statement has been made.
5. Subsequently it was learned that our aircraft was brought down by Syria.
6. As a result, based on the research, analyisis of the radar track history and investigation, the aircraft was hit approximately 13 miles off Syrian airspace, and the last point that the aircraft was flying stable was 35 48.22 North, 33.21 East 35th. From this point the aircraft quickly lost speed and altitude and Syria crashed in Syrian territorial waters 8.5 miles off the coast approximately at 35 48.26 North, 37.59 East.
7. There is no information about the fate of our pilots.
8. The Nautilus ship, used to recover the wreckage of the aircraft is expected to arrive in the area by the evening of Monday Jul. 2.