Turkey to decide stance on Syrian pilot after jet crash
The Turkish government will decide on whether to hand back the Syrian pilot of the MiG-21 type military jet that crashed near the Turkish-Syrian border in the southern province of Hatay “once the situation becomes clearer,” Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli has said.
“The treatment of the pilot is ongoing. A decision will be made once the situation gains clarity,” Canikli told reporters during a visit to the Hatay Governor’s Office on March 5, noting that key aspects of the issue would come to light in the coming days.
“A decision will be made in the coming days after it is determined why and how the jet crashed in Turkish territory, how the pilot jumped, and on what duty he was serving,” he added.
Saying that some of the bones of the Syrian pilot were broken by the fall, Canikli noted that his condition is not life threatening.
Residents of the rural Yaylacık neighborhood of the Samandağı district of Hatay notified the gendarmerie at around 6:30 p.m. on March 4, saying they heard a loud sound and saw a pilot who had jumped with a parachute.
Search and rescue teams were dispatched to the area to determine whether the pilot was in Turkish territory.
“There is information that an MiG modeled plane estimated to be belonging to the Syrian regime crashed in the Yaylacık region. There is information that the pilot jumped from the plane. Our units there are helping the search efforts,” Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım stated on March 4.
“There is also no clarity yet on the reason why it crashed, but there are reports that weather conditions were rather unfavorable,” Yıldırım added.
Hatay Governor Erdal Ata on March 4 said gendarmerie and medical teams had reached the wreckage of the plane.
“According to information I received a short while ago, gendarmerie and medical teams have reached the wreckage of the plane. It was seen that the cockpit of the plane was empty. We think the pilots survived by evacuating,” Ata said, adding that they had confirmed information that there were no aviation activities of Turkish civil aviators or the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in the region.
The region in Yaylacık where the wreckage of the plane was found was closed off by the gendarmerie as part of security measures.
The parachute determined to be belonging to the pilot was found in the Altınözü district but the pilot could not be found near the parachute.
After nine hours of efforts to find the pilot, the teams found him around 500 meters away from where the parachute was spotted and 40 kilometers away from the wreckage of the plane on March 5. He was taken to the Gendarmerie Command in Altınözü before being taken to the Hatay State Hospital.
Search and rescue efforts were halted after it was determined that there was no other pilot in the jet.
The 56-year-old pilot was identified as Mehmed Sufhan by medical staff at the hospital, who said he is not in a critical condition despite some spinal fractures.
Speaking about the incident, Sufhan said he took off from Latakia in order to bomb rural Idlib, but the plane was shot when he reached the area, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported. According to the agency, the pilot walked some 500 meters after falling.
Tight security measures were taken at the hospital by local police and gendarmerie forces.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham told Anadolu Agency by phone that it had downed a jet belonging to the Syrian government, which was bombing rural Idlib.
“The regime plane was flying low when it was bombing rural Idlib. We hit it with a 23-milimeter anti-aircraft weapon. When it was struck, a technical malfunction occurred in the plane. Then it was seen that it started falling,” Ahrar al-Sham spokesperson Ahmed Karaali said on March 4.
Elsewhere, a Syrian army source told state television on March 4 that the air force had lost contact with a fighter jet on a mission near the Turkish border and that a search was underway to find the pilot.