The pilot navigator of the Russian Sukhoi-24 fighter jet that was shot down by a Turkish F-16 says his aircraft never violated Turkey’s airspace and insists he was never contacted by Turkish air traffic control, either.
But Ankara released recordings to the media on Wednesday of the warnings that were repeated over and over, ordering the pilot to redirect his aircraft.
When he was rescued, Captain Konstantin Murakhtin vehemently denied ever leaving Syrian airspace.
“No, this is out of the question even for a one-second possibility, as we were at the altitude of 6,000 meters and the weather was clear,” he told the Rossiya-1 TV Channel in Russia. “All our mission flight was in my personal full control until the explosion of the missile.
“There was not even a slightest threat of getting into Turkey,” he said. “In fact, there were no warnings either via radio communication or optically. There were no contacts at all. That’s why we flew heading combat course as per normal,” he added, the TASS news agency reported.
“If they wanted to warn us they could have come out by flying on parallel courses. But this did not happen. And the missile came to our jet tail all of a sudden… We didn’t even see it to have time for missile evasive maneuver.”
Murakhtin told the interviewer he intends to ask permission to stay at his current base in Syria when he is discharged from the hospital. “I’ll ask the commanders for permission to stay on this airbase,” he said. “I have a debt to pay off on the part of my commander (the pilot who was shot dead by the Turkmen fighters on the ground as he parachuted from the burning warplane – ed.).”
A team of 18 Syrian special ops personnel carried out the 12-hour mission together with six members of an elite Hezbollah guerrilla unit to rescue the Russian airman, who was tracked to his hiding place via a radio signal. The body of the dead pilot, Lt. Col. Oleg Peshkov, was not recovered. A rescue helicopter sent to search for the two pilots was also shot down, this time by Syrian rebel fire, and forced to make an emergency landing. A Russian Marine on board the helicopter, Alexander Pozynich, was also killed.
Turkey insisted it shot down the Russian jet because the aircraft had violated its airspace and its pilots did not respond to repeated warnings from military personnel. The Russian defense ministry claimed the Su-24 never left Syrian airspace.
But a civilian pilot from Lebanon now says he also heard the repeated warnings — and not for the first time this month, either. In fact, he said he has heard those warnings at least two or three times a week as he flies a plane for Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s national carrier, although there is no way to confirm that claim.
On Tuesday, he heard the warnings again, but this time he said the air traffic controller’s voice sounded much more tense and even urgent. Because of that, the Lebanese pilot recorded a 17-second clip of the warnings with his smartphone, which was then passed on to Al-Arabiya.
Turkey has released that recording to prove those warnings from the Turkish Air Force radar station to the Russian warplane were, in fact, issued not once, but numerous times.