In 2015, a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 ‘Fencer’ was shot down in Syria and its pilot died shortly after ejecting from the aircraft. A Russian movie that narrates the incident is scheduled to be released later this month.
The incident took place at a time when tensions between Ankara and Moscow were at an all-time high due to a continued violation of Turkish airspace by Russian warplanes.
On November 24, 2015, a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M2 was shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet near the Turkey-Syria border. According to Turkey, the Russian aircraft had breached the Turkish airspace by a mere 2.19 km.
Turkish authorities also said that they issued 10 warnings to the Russian jet for over 5 minutes on the radio, before it was shot down.
Shortly after this incident, Ankara stated that the warnings which were issued on the mutually agreed radio channel and the international air distress channel (243.0/121.5 MHz, which the Su-24M was unable to monitor with its current radio equipment) were not answered by the Russian aircraft as it continued to fly towards the Turkish airspace.
This led the Turkish authorities to believe the fighter jet belonged to Syria and not Russia.
Claims And Counter-Claims
The surviving pilot of the Russian jet refuted the claims and said no warning had been given and the aircraft did not violate the Turkish air space. Russian Presiden Vladimir Putin called the incident a “stab in the back” committed by “accomplices of terrorists”.
Turkish version was completely denied by Moscow as they said that their aircraft was operating inside the Syrian airspace and that according to their satellite data, the Su-24 was approximately 1 km inside the Syrian airspace at the time of being shot down.
The US State Department also responded to this by saying that they had independently verified the fact that the Russian warplane’s flight path violated Turkish airspace and that the Turks had sent out multiple warnings to the pilot, to which they received no response.
They also released the audio recordings of the warnings which were broadcast by Turkey.
Turkey and Russia had been sharing tense relations even before this particular incident. On October 3 and 4, 2015, Ankara’s sovereign airspace was repeatedly violated by a Russian Air Force Su-30SM and a Su-24 over the Hatay region.
NATO said that “the Russian combat planes entered Turkish airspace despite Turkish authorities’ clear, timely and repeated warnings”.
At that time, the Turkish Air Force F-16s in Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) were sent to identify the intruder, following which the Russian jets exited from the Turkish airspace. Apart from violating the airspace of a NATO member, the Russian Su-30SM had also placed a radar block on one or both of the F-16 jets for a duration of 5 minutes and 40 seconds.
A ‘Navigation Error’?
Moscow said that this violation of Turkish airspace was caused due to a “navigation error”. After this incident, Ankara clearly stated that any aircraft found violating its airspace will be shot down, similar to what it previously did with the Syrian MiG-23 and Mi-17.
On November 24, 2015, the Russian Su-24M2 had been hit by a US-origin AIM-120 Missile. This prompted the pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Peshkov, and weapon system operator, Captain Murakhtin, to immediately eject from the aircraft.
Both the ejecting crew members of the Su-24 Fencer were fired upon by Syrian Turkmen Brigade militants, in clear violation of the Geneva Convention. The shooting resulted in the death of the Russian pilot while the weapon system operator survived and was rescued by the combat search and rescue (CSAR) teams.
During the CSAR mission, one of the Mi-8 helicopters had been hit by small-arms fire, forcing it to make an emergency landing. This resulted in the death of one of its crew members, a naval infantryman.
The crew members who survived this emergency landing were then evacuated. The abandoned helicopter was then destroyed with the help of a US-made BGM-71 tow missile.
Oleg Peshkov, 25, the pilot of the downed Su-24, was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation, the country’s highest military honor.
Peshkov was buried with full military honors at the Alley of Heroes of the cemetery in Lipetsk. The ceremony was attended by around 10,000 people. The surviving weapon system officer Konstantin Murakhtin, and the deceased rescuer, Alexander Pozynich, 29, were awarded the Order of Courage.
Six years after the incident, Russian director Igor Kopylov decided to make a movie on it. The movie, ‘Sky’ (Russian name Небо), is going to be released on November 18, 2021. An unofficial trailer has also been doing rounds on the internet.