An A320 had to make an emergency landing at Khmeimim air base, in Syria, after Syrian air defense almost hit the airliner according to the Russian MoD.
News outlets around the world are reporting that an Airbus A320 with 172 passengers on board made an emergency landing in Russia-controlled Khmeimim air base after Syrian air defence nearly hit it. The first report appears to be sourced by Russian state news agency RIA citing Russian defence ministry spokesman.
#BREAKING: The Russian military said that Israel almost caused a civilian plane with 172 passengers to be hit during this week airstrike in Syria “after it used it to block retaliatory actions of the Syrian air defense forces”
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) February 7, 2020
Flightradar24.com historical database indeed confirms something occurred to Cham Wing Airlines flight 6Q514 / SAW514, an Airbus 320, registration YK-BAB, flying from Najaf, Iraq, to Damascus, Syria, on Feb. 6, 2020. The track (gathered via ADS-B) shows the aircraft approaching Damascus airport around 23.10 UTC, then diverting to Khmeimim air base, in northwestern Syria, near Latakia.
Based on reports, the A320 was diverted by the Damascus ATC (Air Traffic Control) as the Syrian air defense systems engaged four Israeli F-16s and was on high alert due to incoming missiles, and the civilian could have found itself in the crossfire.
According to Russia Today, the Russian Defense Ministry also added that using civilian aircraft as a “shield” is “commonplace” for Israeli Air Force pilots.
Tel Aviv is perfectly aware of civilian flight routes and air activity around Damascus, day and night, and such reckless missions prove that Israeli strategists could not care less about possible civilian casualties, Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.
This is not the first time Israeli fighter jets have endangered civilian aircraft. Moscow criticized Tel Aviv for putting two passenger flights landing at Beirut and Damascus airports in danger during an air raid in 2018. Israel has flown hundreds of similar bombing raids on Syria throughout the country’s civil war, claiming to be hitting “legitimate Iranian targets.”
Yet again, as often explained in the past, suggestions that four attacking jets can use a large and slower aircraft as “shield” during an air strike seem tactically implausible or at least extremely complex (BTW, it might not be even necessary at all, considered the IAF can use stand-off munitions as done almost always.) Nevertheless, deconfliction over a busy target area is a problem in aerial combat that dates back to WWI, as is the corresponding threat of fratricide from anti-aircraft fire.
What happened yesterday has something in common with another incident occurred over Syria, during an Israeli air strike, in 2018, involving a Russian spypale. Syrian anti-aircraft batteries were attempting to engage four Israeli F-16s that were striking targets in the region and a Syrian S-200 surface to air missiles accidentally hit the larger, slower Russian Air Force Il-20M surveillance plane instead of any of the attacking Israeli F-16s (and possible escorting aircraft).
Here’s what we wrote commenting the Il-20M Coot-A downing in an article here at The Aviationist:
Based on the details available to date, it quite likely that the Syrian S-200 battery, facing multiple target, some real ones and other fake ones possibly generated by decoys and EW activity shot at anything within range. Panic and stress on the Syrian side may have contributed.
As Popular Mechanics remembers, misidentification by air defenses operated by Russian-backed forces led to the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight about 50NM to the northwest of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine on Jul. 17, 2014. On Jul. 3, 1988, an Airbus A-300 (registration EP-IBU) operating as Iran Air Flight 655 from Tehran Bandar Abbas to Dubai was shot down by two ground-to-air missiles fired by the USS Vincennes, a Ticonderoga-class warship that was cruising in the Persian Gulf waters that misidentified the airliner as an Iranian F-14.
As you will proobably remember, another tragic incident involving a civilian aircraft occurred earlier this year, in January, when the Iranian air defenses shot down Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 flight PS752.
There were 176 passengers and crew on board Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 when it was accidentally shot down on Jan. 8, 2020, by the Iranians. There were no survivors in the crash. Reports say 82 passengers were Iranian, 63 were Canadian citizens, 11 were Ukrainian, 10 from Sweden, 4 from Afghanistan, 3 from Germany and 3 from the United Kingdom.
The civilian airliner was engaged by an active air defense system “Due to ‘human error’. A statement from the military on Iranian state media said that the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target,” adding that forces were at the “highest level of readiness” at the time, according to the AP.
Anyway, the latest incident is just a reminder that flying close or within conflict/crisis zones can be extremely dangerous (as explained in this article with a history of the civilian shoot down incidents).