Rescued Russian pilot says no warning before jet downed

A screengrab shows a burning trail as the plane comes down after being shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border.
A screengrab shows a burning trail as the plane comes down after being shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border.PHOTO: EPA/HABERTURK TV CHANNEL

MOSCOW (REUTERS/AFP) – The surviving crew member of a Russian warplane shot down by Turkey said on Wednesday the plane received no warnings from the Turkish Air Force and did not fly over Turkish air space, Russian news agencies reported.

Meanwhile, the Turkish military released what it said was an audio recording of a warning to the jet before it was shot down.

“This is Turkish Air Force speaking on guard. You are approaching Turkish airspace. Change your heading south immediately,” a voice in one of the recordings can be heard saying in English, repeating the message several times.

Turkey shot down the Russian plane near the Syrian border on Tuesday, saying it had violated its air space, in one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a Nato member country and Russia for half a century.

Navigator Konstantin Murakhtin was rescued by Russian and Syrian special forces after ejecting from the plane but the pilot was shot dead by rebels as he parachuted to the ground.

“There were no warnings, either by radio or visually. There was no contact whatsoever,” TASS quoted Murakhtin as saying at a hospital in the Syrian province of Latakia, where Russia has an airbase.

“If they wanted to warn us, they could have shown themselves by taking a parallel course. There was nothing. And the missile hit the tail of our aircraft suddenly, we did not see it in time to do an anti-missile manoeuvre.”

Ankara has said the plane was repeatedly warned to change course after encroaching on Turkish air space but Moscow has denied that its warplane flew over Turkish territory.

Murakhtin also said his jet did not leave Syrian airspace.

“I could see perfectly on the map and on the ground where the border was and where we were. There was no danger of entering Turkey,” he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to his Russian counterpart on Wednesday to urge calm and dialogue between 
Turkey and Russia.

In a telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kerry “stressed the need for both sides not to allow this incident to escalate tensions between their two countries or in Syria,” the State Department said in a statement.

“The Secretary offered his condolences for the loss of life in yesterday’s incident with Turkey. He urged for calm and for dialogue between Turkish and Russian officials in the days ahead,” the department added, saying Kerry “underscored the importance of progress toward a diplomatic solution in Syria.”

The downing of the jet on Tuesday was one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a Nato member and Russia for half a century, and further complicated international efforts to battle Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Syria.

While Russian officials expressed fury over Turkey’s actions, and spoke of retaliatory measures that were likely to include curbing travel by Russian tourists to Turkish resorts, there was no sign Russia wanted a military escalation.

Kerry has convened a series of meetings in Vienna including Russia and Iran, the main backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which both want Assad’s rule to end, to try find a diplomatic end to the four-and-a-half-year Syrian civil war.