One Russian pilot killed, other returned to Russia airbase in Syria
MOSCOW – Agence France-Presse
AP photoOne of two pilots aboard a Russian warplane shot down by Turkey on Nov. 24 was killed by gunfire while parachuting from the burning plane. Meanwhile, the other pilot was picked up by the Syrian Army and returned to Russia's airbase in Syria, both Russian military and Russia’s ambassador to France have confirmed.
Rudskoi said Russia would cease all military contact with Turkey, as international concerns grow that the incident could snowball into a major conflict.
The general said the Su-24 "fell in Syrian territory, four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the border".
"The crew ejected," the general said. "According to preliminary information, one of the pilots died after being fired upon from the ground."
Although the fate of the second pilot was not immediately known, Russian ambassador to France was quoted by Reuters saying the second pilot was picked up by the Syrian Army.
Russian and Syrian special forces have freed the second pilot of a Russian warplane shot down by Turkey and he is now at a Russian air base in Syria, the defence minister said on Nov. 25.
The operation ended successfully. The second pilot has been brought to our base. He is alive and well," Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
"I would like to thank all our guys who worked at great risk all night and finished this job at around 3:40 am," Shoigu said in televised comments.
President Vladimir Putin later confirmed the second pilot was "saved" and "he and the other participants.. including in the rescue operation will be awarded state honours."
In a statement published on the defence ministry's website, Rudskoi said a Russian soldier had been killed when his Mi-8 helicopter was "damaged by gunfire and had to land" during a search-and-rescue operation to retrieve the pair.
Two helicopters were used in the operation.
The rest of the crew onboard the stricken Mi-8 were evacuated to the Hmeimim air base in Syria's northern Latakia province, Rudskoi said, adding that the helicopter was hit by mortar fire coming from territory under rebel control.
The Turkish army said earlier the fighter was shot down by two of its F-16s after it violated Turkish airspace 10 times within a five-minute period.
Rudskoi insisted the Su-24 had not strayed within Turkish airspace, and denied that the Turkish army had tried to make either radio or visual contact with its pilots before shooting it down.
He said the plane was shot down within Syrian airspace and condemned it as a "flagrant violation of international law" that would have "the gravest consequences".
He said that Russia's Moskva guided missile cruiser would be stationed near Latakia.
"All targets representing a potential threat to us will be destroyed," he warned.
Russian bombers, which launched strikes on Syria in defence of President Bashar al-Assad on September 30, will now be escorted by fighters, Rudskoi announced, adding that operations to retrieve the two pilots were continuing.