Turkish Warplane Vanishes over Syria Border

Turkey searched for a missing fighter-jet and held an emergency security summit Friday, as the prime minister backed off reported comments suggesting Syria had downed the aircraft.

The military plane -- reportedly an F-4 Phantom with two pilots aboard -- lost radio contact and vanished off radar screens around 0900 GMT over the eastern Mediterranean, near the border with Syria.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has had tense relations with Damascus amid the uprising there, met military and intelligence chiefs and key ministers for the security meeting.

He said "an exact explanation could be issued after the summit".

Earlier, local media had quoted Erdogan as saying that Syria had apologized over the fighter jet crash, in a comment that suggested it had downed the plane.

"Syria immediately offered a very serious apology for the incident and admitted it was a mistake," the Haberturk daily newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying onboard a plane on his way back from Brazil.

"At this moment the air force and navy are conducting search and rescue operations in the eastern Mediterranean, and luckily our pilots are alive, we have just lost a plane," he reportedly told the daily.

However, at an Ankara press conference, Erdogan said: "I cannot say it was shot down. It's not possible to tell before we have exact information," adding that the details would be clarified after the summit.

Erdogan said he did not have "exact information" but that the meeting would reveal "if Syria really apologized and, if so, why it did".

The prime minister said he had been told that the plane was eight miles (12 kilometers) off the coast in the south of Turkey's Hatay province, close to Syria's Latakia.

"Four gunboats, helicopters and Syrian gunboats are carrying on the joint search," to locate the plane, he said.

Earlier in the day Turkey's military command announced it had lost radar and radio contact with one of its aircraft near Syria.

The plane took off from Malatya airbase in the southeast at 0730 GMT and lost communication with the base at 0858 GMT, the online statement said.

Malatya governor Ulvi Saran told the Anatolia news agency that the aircraft was a F-4 fighter jet with two pilots onboard.

"We have no information right now about the fate of the plane. We are following the developments," he said.

NTV private news channel reported, citing unnamed military sources, that the plane crashed in Syrian territorial waters, and that there had been no violation of the Syrian border.

But the claims were not confirmed by Turkish officials.

Al-Jazeera television, citing Turkey’s Dogan news agency, said the aircraft crashed into "Syria’s territorial waters."

Meanwhile, a witness told Russia's RT Arabic television that the Turkish plane crashed on Syrian territory and the two pilots were captured, adding that the jet appears to have been shot down.

And the Lebanon-based, pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV said the Turkish warplane went down as Syrian air defenses opened fire.

For its part, Lebanon’s al-Jadeed television quoted “Syrian sources” as saying that “Syrian anti-aircraft artillery opened fire last night at hostile planes over the Latakia area of al-Badrousiyeh, downing one of them.”

Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper, without citing sources, said the plane apparently plunged into international waters outside the territorial waters of Syria.

Source: Naharnet, Agence France Presse, Associated Press

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