Russia hails rescue operation as downed jet’s navigator denies Turkey warning

The Guardian – Shaun Walker/Moscow and Kareem Shaheen/Beirut – Nov 25, 2015

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Photo: Rescued navigator Konstantin Murakhtin said he knew the area where he was shot down ‘like the back of my hand’. Composite: Facebook/Haberturk TV via AP

Navigator of Su-24 jet rescued after Syrian special forces and Hezbollah conduct 12-hour operation in rebel-held territory.

The second Russian airman from the Su-24 shot down by the Turkish air force is “alive and well”, after a 12-hour special operation to save him succeeded, Russian officials have said.

Both airmen ejected from the plane after it was hit by a Turkish F-16 on Tuesday, but the pilot was shot at and killed by fire from the ground, apparently from Syrian Turkmen fighters.

Related: Is Vladimir Putin right to label Turkey ‘accomplices of terrorists’?

The Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said there had been a 12-hour special operation to rescue the navigator, which ended at 3.40am Moscow time.

“The operation was concluded successfully. The [navigator] has arrived at our base and is alive and well,” Shoigu told a ministry of defence meeting. He thanked “all our guys, who worked through the night at huge risk to themselves”.

The Russian agency LifeNews said the airman was found by an 18-man Syrian special forces team acting together with six members of an elite Hezbollah unit. It said he had hidden for many hours after landing, and was found by a radio signal.

A military source from the Syrian government said: “Special operations units from the Syrian Arab army conducted last night a special operation in which it penetrated areas where the terrorists are present and was able to rescue one of the pilots of the Russian plane.”

Captain Konstantin Murakhtin, speaking on Russian television after his rescue, said his plane had not crossed into Turkish airspace and denied that there had been any audio or visual warnings from Turkey. Murakhtin added that he knew the area “like the back of my hand”. He is currently receiving medical treatment but said he wanted to stay in Syria and continue flying missions.

Turkey has said the plane entered its airspace for 17 seconds on Tuesday morning in what it said was the latest in a string of provocative attacks on Ankara-backed Turkmen fighters close to the Turkish border. The Turkish foreign ministry summoned Russia’s ambassador last Friday to complain about the incursions.

The dead pilot was named by Russia as Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov. One of the rescue helicopters sent to search for the men was hit by rebel fire, forcing it to make an emergency landing. One of the marines on board, Alexander Pozynich, was killed.

Vladimir Putin said Peshkov would be awarded the country’s highest military honour, the Hero of Russia award, posthumously. The Order of Courage would be awarded to Murakhtin and posthumously to Pozynich.

Russia has said its plane did not enter Turkish airspace. President Putin reacted furiously to the incident on Tuesday, calling the move a “stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists” and promising “serious consequences”.

Read entire article here

Posted by Teri Perticone

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