F-16 taking off to prevent the presidential plane

F-16 taking off to prevent the presidential plane

When staff pilot captains İlker Hazinedar and Oğuz Alper Emrah were assigned on a flight mission, it was nearly midnight. They did not know the flight routes and targets. Akıncı Air Base Operations Commander Staff Col. Ahmet Özçetin had said, “You take off, the information will come while you’re in the air.”

But previously, in the evening hours, they were both told that the mission would be directed for an air target and not a target on land.

On the evening of July 15, 2016, the flight order arrived to them at around 11 p.m. “By the time we had conducted the checks on the plane and made it ready for takeoff, it was past 00:00; afterwards, we took off. Bombs were not loaded at the bottom of the planes, there were only rockets on the airfoils,” said Hazinedar in his testimony to the prosecutor’s office. 

And Emrah said, “I and Capt. Hazinedar took an F-16 jet each. On each of the F-16s, there were two AIM-9 and AIM-120 ammunition.”

In the radio records happening right after the takeoff, the following dialogue took place at 00:17 between Staff Maj. Ahmet Tosun, commanding the operation from air from the 141st Squadron, and Emrah, who flew with the “Şahin 2” call sign:

FİLO (Tosun): The plane we’ll tell you will probably be the presidential aircraft, a huge plane, one with the emblem of the presidency. 

ŞAHİN 2 (Emrah): Understood.

And later an instruction came from the squadron.

Emrah explained the aftermath as follows: “We went in that direction for about 200 miles. I believe that it corresponded to the Polatlı - Afyon direction. After a while, an instruction came from the radio to come back.”

From this instruction, we understand that the assignment of averting the presidential aircraft had come to an end. 

But there was a second mission that awaited the pilots.

In the recording starting at 01:08:52, the person sitting at the operation center was the Staff Capt. Mustafa Mete Kaygusuz, instead of Maj. Tosun. “We are on standby for the coordinates of the illegal palace,” Emrah told Kaygusuz. Kaygusuz replied, “I’ll give [it], wait.”

Right after that, Kaygusuz gave the coordinates Emrah was waiting for. 

“I took the coordinates and entered the plane. According to these coordinates, the plane came to Ankara city center. Following that, I made three low passes there. The place where I made a low pass was probably the presidential complex,” Emrah said. 

When the prosecutor’s office made Emrah listen to the radio recording including the statement of “illegal palace,” Emrah tried to save the day by saying, “I think I talked that way with the fluster of the night, there is no special purpose.”

Let’s go on to the Aegean city of Marmaris. In the minutes the two F-16s embarked to the western province of Afyon at 00:17 with the mission to avert the ATA plane, which would be carrying President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; he was not in the air but was in Yazıcı Hotel in Marmaris. The president, in exactly seven minutes, at 00:24, would be connecting to Hande Fırat on private broadcaster CNN Türk through FaceTime before calling on people to resist against the coup. The time when Emrah and Hazinedar were given instructions to go back to Ankara, it is highly possible that the president was at that same moment urging Turkish people to take to the streets in his CNN Türk appearance. 

After delivering his speech, the president travelled immediately to Dalaman Airport by helicopter. Erdoğan’s plane takes off from Dalaman at exactly 01:43 and lands on Istanbul Atatürk Airport at 03:20. 

F-16 pilots on the other hand landed on Akıncı base, five minutes before Erdoğan took off from Dalaman. In this situation, when the two F-16s were sent from Akıncı at around 00:00 to Marmaris for the “interception” mission, we understand that they had set out from the wrong intelligence that the president had taken off from Dalaman or was about to. It is likely that the coup operations center in Akıncı understood that the president was still in Marmaris when he appeared on CNN Türk, deciding that planes should go back to Ankara. 

The prosecutor made the two pilots individually listen to the radio recordings in which the order to avert the presidential aircraft was given, Emrah had said “We’re in agreement,” with the prosecutor later asking, “Do you have such a duty and authority? Is this order in line with the law?”

“You cannot reach the conclusion from this that we’ll do something to the plane. Only orders and information are given to me. I cannot know the intentions behind it,” Emrah replied. 

Hazinedar on the other hand defended himself by saying, “Under normal conditions, I should have heard this radio talk conducted with the squadron. But I did not hear this recording. From time to time, there can be problems between radios.”

If it were you, would you believe these pilots?