Bodies of Turkish pilots recovered from seabed
The military announced on Thursday that it has retrieved the bodies of two pilots of a jet shot down by Syria last month, giving families some closure 13 days after the incident.
In a statement the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said the bodies were recovered from the seabed 8.6 nautical miles from the Syrian coast. It said the bodies were found at a depth of 1,260 meters near the wreckage of the jet, which had broken up into eight pieces. The bodies were flown to the eastern city of Malatya from where the jet had taken off on June 22.
The military had been searching for the wreckage of the plane and the pilots since the aircraft was shot down on June 22. It announced on Wednesday that the bodies were found and efforts were under way to retrieve the remains. The Nautilus, a specially designed vessel, was brought in this week to recover the wreckage, which lies some 1,000 meters under the surface.
The families of the two pilots, Capt. Gökhan Ertan and Lt. Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy, put on a brave face as they mourned their beloved ones, stating that they were proud of the men.
Osman Aksoy, the father of Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy, said his son was not dead but a martyr. “My son didn’t die. I feel and see him. God has written his destiny this way,” he told reporters, speaking from his home in İstanbul’s Bağcılar district. “Our country will always stand and will never collapse. We will not give ill-wishers any chances. The friends of my son will continue to protect this country,” said Aksoy.
To accommodate the large numbers of people visiting the family, the Bağcılar Municipality erected a tent for them. A Turkish flag was hoisted onto the building where the Aksoy family lives.
Zennure Ertan, the mother of Gökhan Ertan, speaking to the press from her home in Malatya, said: “I am really proud of my son. He sacrificed himself for his nation and his country. He used to love his job. He used to say that his life was planes. He loved to fly.
“I say that God loves my son more than I do. When God gave him to me, I didn’t cry. Therefore, when God is taking him back, I am not going to cry. I am not a weak person,” she said.
Syrian forces shot down the RF-4E Phantom, an unarmed reconnaissance version of the F4 fighter jet on June 22, when, according to Ankara, it was on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems. Ankara says it was hit in international airspace after it briefly strayed into Syrian airspace.
Syria insisted that the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire within Syrian airspace. Turkey, while saying the act would “not go unpunished,” emphasized that it does not intend to go to war with Syria.
The bodies of the pilots were located by the Nautilus, a vessel owned by US ocean explorer Robert Ballard -- best known for discovering the wreck of the Titanic -- on the seabed after the Turkish navy had pinpointed the area.
Last week, pilot Ertan’s father said he didn’t want Turkey to go to war with Syria over the tragic loss of his son.
Speaking to Samanyolu Haber from his home in Malatya, Ertan said: “Our country is not a country that will go to war for a pilot or for a fighter jet. It wouldn’t be appropriate anyway. My son could be dead, but what matters is that he served his country. I am a devout believer; I do not believe that my son or other martyrs are dead. They are alive and among us.”
A Turkish flag was also raised on the building where Ertan’s parents live. Before the death of their son in the June 22 incident, they had reportedly lost two other sons in a car accident.
Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said on Wednesday that a ceremony for the two pilots would take place on Friday in the eastern province of Malatya, the location of the air base from where the downed jet had taken off. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and Yılmaz will be attending the ceremony.
Erdoğan has already sent his condolences to the families of the two pilots.
Martyr Aksoy’s funeral will be in İstanbul, while Ertan’s funeral will take place in his hometown of Malatya.
The Nautilus is now expected to resume its search for the wreckage of the F-4 jet after recovering the bodies of both pilots. The Nautilus was anchored in İstanbul in preparation for a two-month scientific expedition when the Turkish government asked for Ballard’s assistance in its hunt for the US-built jet and its pilots.
The Turkish government has granted Ballard permission to conduct research in Turkish waters. With a full crew of 48, the Nautilus is expensive to operate, with likely costs of between $70,000 and $100,000 a day, said Charles Royce, vice president of Oceaneering International, a Houston company that builds undersea remotely operated vehicles.
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