The Russian Defense Ministry released details today about the 12-hour operation its military conducted to rescue a fighter pilot shot down by Turkish forces inside Syria yesterday.
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According to a timeline released by Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, the attack on the Russian warplane came at 10:24 a.m. Moscow time Tuesday, when a Turkish F-16 fired a “homing short range missile” that downed the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 as it was conducting a combat sortie over Syria. The Russians have denied that the aircraft crossed into Turkey, a claim Turkish authorities dispute. Rudskoy said that the Sukhoi was never warned to leave the area before it was shot down. Turkish authorities said the Russian jet was issued 10 warnings over a 5-minute period to turn away.
According to Rudskoy, the Russian military jet crashed inside Syria about 4 kilometers from the Turkish border. Both pilots managed to eject, but one was killed by smalls arms fire from the ground as he descended in his parachute. Turkmen rebels released video yesterday that purportedly showed the body of the pilot.
Russian forces immediately launched a rescue operation, led by two Mi-8 helicopters, one of which also came under attack by small arms fire from the ground. The Mi-8 was forced to make a hard landing that killed a Russian marine. The rest of the search team was then evacuated to the Hmeymim airbase before the team's helicopter was destroyed by rebel fighters.
The surviving pilot spoke to Russian media today, saying his aircraft never violated Turkish airspace "even for a second."
"If they wanted to warn us they could show themselves by entering parallel courses," the pilot said, according to the Associated Press. "But it didn't happen. And the missile hit our tail suddenly. We didn't see it and so weren't able to make an anti-missile maneuver."
The Russian Minister of Defense, Sergey Shoygu, announced this morning that at 3:40 a.m. Moscow time the mission to recover the surviving pilot was complete. “He’s very much alive,” Shoygu said. “I would like to thank all of our boys, who with a huge risk worked all night...they have finished the job."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to cameras after he was briefed by Shoygu, identified the fallen pilot as Seaman Alexander Pozynich and the marine as Capt. Konstantin Muraktin. Both will be posthumously awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation medal, the highest state honor.
There is no word yet on how or even if Pozynich's body will be recovered and returned to Russia.