Jordan pilot ejected over Syria after 'technical failure'

A picture taken on Dec 24, 2014 reportedly shows an Islamic State group fighter collecting pieces from the remains of a Jordanian warplane from the US led coalition after it came down in Syria's Raqa region. -- PHOTO: AFP
A picture taken on Dec 24, 2014 reportedly shows an Islamic State group fighter collecting pieces from the remains of a Jordanian warplane from the US led coalition after it came down in Syria's Raqa region. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT (AFP) - Technical failure caused a Jordanian pilot captured by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants to eject after flying at low altitude, activists and a monitoring group told AFP on Friday.

Maaz al-Kassasbeh "was flying at a high altitude to start with. He hit the brick factory and then disappeared from sight", said Obada al-Hussein, an activist from ISIS-held Raqa who spoke to AFP via the Internet.

Raqa in Syria is the self-proclaimed ISIS "capital".

"Then the plane flew back, and this time smoke was coming out of it. I believe there was a technical failure," Hussein said.

Another activist from the city, Abu Ibrahim, also spoke of a "technical failure".

"The plane fell in an area called Hamra Ghannam, in the eastern countryside of Raqa," said Abu Ibrahim, who fled ISIS persecution in Raqa but who continues to be well informed on events there.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a similar account.

"Sources in the area saw the plane flying very low. There was a technical failure. The sources then saw ISIS members fire heavy machineguns and shoulder-fired missiles at the plane," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

"The pilot ejected, after the technical problem made it impossible for him to return to a higher altitude," he added.

Nael Mustafa, another Raqa activist, told AFP: "The pilot was at a low altitude, and then ISIS fire hit his plane."

Their accounts came hours after the Jordanian military denied ISIS claims that it shot down one of its warplanes.

The US military has also dismissed the militants' claim to have hit the jet with an anti-aircraft missile, saying "evidence clearly suggests that ISIL (ISIS) did not down the aircraft".

The crash was the first warplane from the US-led coalition lost since air strikes on ISIS began in Syria in September, and marks a major propaganda victory for the Sunni extremist group.

Jordan is among a number of countries that have joined the air raids against ISIS.

Coalition warplanes have carried out regular strikes around Raqa, which ISIS has used as its de facto capital since declaring a "caliphate" in June straddling large parts of Iraq and Syria.