DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BNO NEWS) — Syrian air defenses shot down a Turkish fighter jet off its western coast on late Friday morning, a military spokesman admitted on early Saturday. A search-and-rescue operation is continuing for the two missing pilots.
The Turkish F-4 aircraft went missing at 11:58 a.m. local time on Friday when the Turkish military lost radar and radio contact with the plane as it was flying over the Mediterranean Sea, southwest of Hatay province which borders Syria. The plane had left Erhaç airbase in Malatya province at 10:30 a.m. local time.
Search-and-rescue efforts began shortly after the aircraft went missing, but it took hours before Syria acknowledged it had shot down the aircraft. “An unidentified aerial target violated Syrian airspace, coming from the west at a very low altitude and at high speed over territorial waters, so the Syrian air defenses counteracted with anti-aircraft artillery,” a Syrian military spokesman said.
The spokesman said the aircraft was hit as it was about 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) from land, causing it to crash into Syrian territorial waters about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from land. He said the crash site is located west of Om al-Tuyour, a village in the northern province of Lattakia.
A Turkish government source told the Hurriyet newspaper on Friday that the Syrian government expressed sorrow after the incident, and the comments from Syria suggest that it did not know it was a Turkish aircraft. “Turkey will take all necessary steps and will take its final position after the full details of the incident are known,” a Turkish government statement said.
It remains unclear whether the two pilots survived the crash. Both Syrian and Turkish naval ships are involved in the search-and-rescue operation, which continued on early Saturday morning. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rejected media reports that the crew members were captured by Syrian forces, saying there is no evidence of that.