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INTERNATIONAL > Pilots’ bodies retrieved, sent for a state funeral

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey will bid farewell today to two of its pilots shot down by Syria as NATO nixes Turkey’s request to establish a no-fly zone over the Arab republic amid Moscow’s laughter that President al-Assad could seek asylum in Russia

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Turkey will today hold a state funeral to bid farewell to two pilots from a RF4-E jet that was shot down last month by Syria after their bodies were recovered from the seabed 8.6 nautical miles off the Syrian coastline.

The ceremony will take place at the Erhaç Base of the Turkish Air Forces in the eastern province of Malatya, from where the RF4-E took off. It will be attended by top civil and military officials, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also expected to participate.

“The bodies of our pilots were found at a depth of 1,260 meters near the wreckage of the jet … which had broken up into eight pieces. The bodies have been flown to Malatya,” the Chief of General Staff said in a written statement yesterday. The army’s statement differed from Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, who had earlier said the bodies were found inside the wreckage.

The Turkish jet was shot down by Syria on June 22; Ankara claims that plane was downed 12.6 nautical miles from the Syrian coast in international airspace while testing Turkish radar capacity in a solo and unarmed flight. Syria argues that it shot down the jet in its own airspace with an anti-aircraft weapon, and not by a laser guided missile as Turkey claims. The technical analysis on the wreckage will give strong evidence on how the jet was downed.

In Malatya, a large ceremony will be held for Capt. Gökhan Ertan and Maj. Lt. Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy with the participation of the foreign and defense ministers, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and force commanders. Erdoğan has also cut short a holiday to attend the ceremony.

The army’s statement included a map showing exactly where the wreckage was found and pictures of the parts of the wreckage found on the seabed and the surface. The main parts of the wreckage will be retrieved following the completion of the documentation process, sources said. This process is particularly important to better understand how the jet was downed and at which point it crashed into the sea. The works are being carried out by the military’s hydrographic vessels Çeşme and İnebolu, as well as the U.S.-flagged Nautilus.

‘Our radar tracks enough for proof’
The results of the technical analysis will address all lingering questions as to whether the plane was shot down by a missile or an anti-aircraft weapon. Russian and U.S. media have cast doubt on the Turkish version of the strike.

“We have issued calls to other countries to share their information if they have any. We have not been given anything yet,” a senior diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday in an obvious reference to Russia, the U.K. and the U.S., who all have military bases in the region.

“As a matter of fact, the information they provide us is not that vital, as this is our jet and our radar tracks are better than anyone else’s. We have traced our jet second per second via our radars in Malatya and radars on its route,” the source said. “We are pretty sure that it was shot down 12.6 nautical miles off the Syrian coastline in international waters.”

July/06/2012

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