ANKARA - The Associated Press
Turkish Armed Forces photo
The bodies of two Turkish pilots were recovered from the seabed today after U.S. ocean explorer Robert Ballard, best known for discovering the wreck of the Titanic, helped locate them nearly two weeks after their jet was shot down by Syria.
A Turkish official said Ballard, aboard his deep-sea exploration vessel R/V Nautilus, found the bodies Wednesday 8.6 nautical miles off the Syrian coast after the Turkish navy had pinpointed the area. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Turkey’s military said in a statement on its website that the bodies were taken to the base in the southern city of Malatya where their plane had originally taken off. It did not say how and by whom the bodies were recovered. A funeral ceremony was scheduled for Friday.
The military said the R/V Nautilus is continuing to search for more pieces of the plane’s wreckage.
Syrian forces shot down the RF-4 plane June 22. Turkey says it was hit in international airspace, but Syria insists it was flying low inside Syrian airspace.
Syria did not offer an apology for the downing of the jet which further strained ties between the two neighbors. Turkey quickly deployed anti-aircraft missiles on the border and threatened to target Syrian military elements if they approach. It also had its jets scrambled several times over the past week when Syrian helicopters came close.
Ballard led the international team that discovered the RMS Titanic in 1985, and also found the wrecks of the battleship Bismarck and the World War II PT-109 torpedo patrol boat that John F. Kennedy commanded.
Turkey has long been calling on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and order his forces to stop targeting civilians. More than 35,000 Syrians, including many Syrian officers, have fled to Turkey.