Three fighter jets can be seen in the vicinity of a helicopter carrying Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Mushin Yazıcıoğlu and four others minutes before it crashed suspiciously in 2009, killing all on board, on radar images acquired by Today's Zaman. The presence of jets in the area had been reported previously but this is the first time the press has gotten hold of radar images since the accident.
A report into the accident, which the BBP argues was an assassination, established early on that one F-14 and two F-16 fighter jets were seen in the area just before the helicopter crashed. On the radar one of the F-16s is seen flying southwest.
However, at about 3:03 p.m., the suspected time of the accident, all of the military radars in the region went down, according to official information by the General Staff. This has been seen as highly suspicious by most commentators. The route flown by the F-16 during the four minutes the General Staff say are missing on its radars is uncertain.
The General Staff said the radars were out of order for four minutes on the day of the accident, which suspiciously coincides with the four minutes during which the crash occurred. The presidential inspection body, the State Audit Institution (DDK), which has been investigating the crash, pointed out that the General Staff had not mentioned the four-minute radar failure prior to the investigation. Indeed, it was only last Friday that the General Staff advised that the radars had been down for four minutes during the time in question. The General Staff sent an official notice to the Malatya Specially Authorized Prosecutor's Office in which it said the military radar system had not been working at the time the helicopter carrying the former leader of the BBP and five other passengers crashed in Kahramanmaraş on March 25, 2009.
The revelation confirms earlier suspicions about the sighting of three fighter jets, about three minutes before the crash occurred, 28.5 kilometers from the accident site. The new radar images, available only now, show fighter jet activity in the area prior to the crash. This puts the Turkish Air Forces, which had initially announced that there were no jets belonging to it within a radius of 74 kilometers from the helicopter crash site, in a difficult position. The military radar, according to recent information released by the General Staff, was down between the times of 15:03:02 and 15:07:40. All other radars in the area were also down for a short while at the same time, which is why there are no images of the time the helicopter went down on Mount Keş. The General Staff also claims it does not have the flight records of the two jets.
Radar images acquired by Today's Zaman show the F-16 at an altitude of 7,528 meters at a location 28.5 kilometers southwest of the helicopter at 14:59:67. The General Staff has confirmed this, to the embarrassment of the Turkish Air Forces. The radar images show an F-16 with the flight number HK046 can be seen southeast of the accident zone a few minutes before the estimated time of the crash. The two other planes, another F-16 (flight number MJ524) and an F-14 (flight number HH721), are also seen in the radar, not far from HK046. The last image is at 14:59:47 before the radar goes down.
A retired pilot from the Land Forces' Aviation Command, who asked to remain unnamed, said it was unlikely that all military radars in one region could crash at the same time. “These radars work independently of each other. The images are relayed to the operation center of the Air Forces Command. Whenever any of the radars goes down, you have another one transmitting images. It is impossible for all of them to go down at the same time,” he said.
Last week, the DDK demanded that the prosecutor conducting the investigation look into whether footage from the military radar could have been tampered with by comparing this radar's images to those taken from civilian radars. The DDK also said there should be an investigation to confirm whether the report of the radar failure is true and also if the flight records of the three jets are indeed missing. The DDK also asked that expert opinions be obtained as to possible flight routes taken by each of the three jets during the missing four minutes.
Yazıcıoğlu's helicopter crashed as he was returning from an election campaign rally. BBP leader Yazıcıoğlu, BBP Sivas Provincial Chairman Erhan Üstündağ, BBP Deputy Provincial Chairman Yüksel Yağcı, Sivas City Council candidate Murat Çetinkaya and İhlas news agency (İHA) reporter İsmail Güneş, along with the pilot, Kaya İstektepe, were traveling from Kahramanmaraş to Yozgat when the accident occurred. An unsuccessful search by thousands of rescue workers was hindered by snowstorms and heavy fog and a lack of knowledge of the exact location of the crash site in the mountainous area of more than 30 square kilometers.
The victims' snow-covered bodies were eventually found by local villagers 72 hours after the crash. The delay in finding the victims and other evidence quickly triggered claims that the crash was an assassination planned by an illegal organization.