Although what really happened to the Turkish reconnaissance plane that violated the Syrian airspace is still unclear (with Ankara claiming that the aircraft was shot down by a missile exploded near the plane and Damascus saying that the aircraft was gunned down by a Syrian air defense battery), the newly disclosed documents provide a different version about one of those details that was never before questioned.
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.
Image credit: U.S. Navy