Turkey’s armed forces command said on Wednesday it had found the bodies of both pilots of an F-4 jet shot down by Syria last month on the Mediterranean seabed and was working on retrieving them.
“The bodies (of the two pilots) have been recovered in seabed and work is underway to bring them to the surface,” the army command said in a statement posted on its website.
It named the pilots as Air Force Captain Gokhan Ertan and Air Force Lieutenant Hasan Huseyin Aksoy. The military did not specify where the bodies were found, but there has been no report that the pilots ejected from the plane.
The military has been conducting a search operation since the jet was downed on June 22 and this week brought in a specialized ship to recover the wreckage, some 1,000 meters underwater.
The statement maintained that the two-seater F-4 Phantom was shot in international airspace by Syrian fire, but that the wreckage of the downed fighter has not yet been spotted.
Relations between Ankara and Damascus hit a new low after Syria shot down the Turkish reconnaissance plane over the Mediterranean on June 22, prompting a sharp rebuke from Turkey, which said it would respond “decisively”.
The incident has triggered a show of force between the neighbors, which have reportedly massed troops near their common border.
Turkey has also heightened military activity along its border with Syria since the incident and scrambled F-16 fighter jets on three consecutive days in the past week after it spotted Syrian transport helicopters flying near the Turkish border.
In an interview with Turkish paper Cumhuriyet published on Tuesday, Assad said he wished his forces had not shot the jet down, repeating Damascus's position they had not known the identity of the plane at the time.
Turkey dismisses this assertion, saying the plane was unarmed, was not hiding its identity and was attacked without warning.