Turkey Shoots Down Russian Plane Near Syrian Border

The pilots managed to eject but their fate was unknown, Russia's ministry of defense has said

Nov 24, 2015 at 3:27 AM ET

Turkey shot down a Russian military plane near the country’s Syrian border early Tuesday. Turkey said it warned the jet ten times that it had crossed into Turkish airspace before taking it down. Russia’s ministry of defense denies that it violated Turkey’s airspace, saying the jet, a Russian Su-24, never left Syria’s borders. Vladimir Putin called the act a “crime.”

It’s the first time a NATO member country has shot down a Russian plane since the 1950s, and risks further inflaming already tense relationships between Russia and the West.

In a televised broadcast on Tuesday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin slammed the downing of the plane as a “stab in the back” and said it will result in serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations. He accused Turkey of siding with ISIS militants, and said the plane was flying at a height of 6,000 meters and was one kilometer—less than a mile—from the Syria-Turkey border when it was hit.

The pilots managed to eject but their fate was unknown, the Russian defense ministry has said, adding that the circumstances of the crash were being investigated.

Twitter accounts affiliated with Syrian rebel groups including Jaish al-Fatah claimed that rebel fighters captured one of the Russian pilots and were searching for a second early on Tuesday. Citing local sources, CNN Turk reported that Turkmen forces in Syria had captured an airman. A video posted to Facebook claimed to show one of the Russian pilots being taken by rebels, but a Vocativ analysis found that the video was originally posted to social media two years ago.

Later on Tuesday, Alpaslan Celik, a deputy commander of a Turkmen brigade, said Turkmen forces in Syria shot both pilots as they floated through the sky with parachutes, Reuters reported. “Our comrades opened fire into the air and they died in the air,” Celik said, as he held part of a parachute, according to Reuters.

Russia has been launching airstrikes in Syria in support of the Syrian army and Bashar al-Assad’s regime since late September. The jet crash occurred on Tuesday as Syrian rebels claimed on social media that they took control of Jabal Zahiya—the area where the plane came down—from their rival, the Syrian army, after heavy battles.

More Russian Airstrikes Killed More Syrian Civilians Than ISIS Fighters

Reports about the downed jet were picked up by Russian news outlets, generating a commotion on social media. Russia’s popular social media network Vkontakte, Twitter and Facebook exploded with posts about the incident as hundreds of users started threatening that if the downed plane was indeed Russian, Turkey will pay the price for “declaring war” on Russia. Some users threatened to boycott Russian tourism in Turkey, one of the most popular vacation destination among Russians.

Video footage posted to Twitter by Turkey’s Anadolu Agency showed a plane going down in a mountainous area in northern Syria, where both Russia and Syria have conducted airstrikes, according to Reuters.

According to reports, Syrian rebels celebrated the downing of the jet.

Gilad Shiloach contributed to this report.