ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
US ship Nautilus, searching for the bodies of the Turkish pilots, is seen. DHA photo
The Turkish military has announced that it has found the bodies of the two Turkish pilots of the RF4-E, 11 days after the jet was shot down by Syria, in a statement ending hopes that they would still be alive. Work to retrieve the bodies is still being carried out.
“The bodies [of the two pilots] have been discovered on the seabed and work is underway to bring them to the surface,” the Chief of General Staff said in a statement posted on its website yesterday.
Wreckage of the jet and the bodies of the two pilots may have been located after Nautilus, a U.S.-flagged hydrographic vessel was sent to the eastern Mediterranean. The military’s statement did not, however, detail where and how exactly the wreckage was located.
Capt. Gökhan Ertan and Maj. Lt. Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy were in command of the RF4-E reconnaissance jet when it was shot down by Syria 13 nautical miles off the Syrian coast in international airspace. Search-and-rescue operations were immediately started in Syrian territorial waters, but as the debris was at a depth of 1,300 meters Turkey had to ask for international assistance. Nautilus, which was by chance anchored in Istanbul, sailed to the Mediterranean and reached the region July 2.
An autopsy of the bodies of the pilots and technical analysis of the debris of the jet would give additional information on whether the jet was downed by a laser-guided missile, as Turkey says, or by an anti-aircraft weapon, as Syria claims. The identification of the weapon would also clarify contradicting reports on whether the jet was shot down in Syrian airspace or in international airspace. Anti-aircraft weapons are effective only within a two to 2.5-mile range.