The bodies of two pilots who had been reported missing after Syrian forces downed a Turkish military jet on June 22 have been located in the Mediterranean Sea, the General Staff has said.
The General Staff said in a statement posted online on Wednesday that the bodies of Capt. Gökhan Ertan and Lt. Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy were found deep in the sea and that efforts are still under way to retrieve the two men’s remains. The military also expressed its condolences to the families of the pilots.
The bodies were reportedly located by deep-sea exploration vessel EV Nautilus in the eastern Mediterranean on Wednesday. The military has been conducting a search since the jet was downed on June 22 and this week brought in a specially designed vessel to recover the wreckage, which lies some 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) under the surface.
The General Staff said in an earlier statement that five military vessels, including a frigate and a gunboat, as well as a CN-235 plane and four search and rescue helicopters had been searching for the jet and that some of the pilots’ possessions had been recovered.
Syrian forces shot down a Turkish RF-4E Phantom, an unarmed reconnaissance version of the F-4 fighter jet, which according to Ankara was on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems and was hit in international airspace after it briefly strayed into Syrian airspace. However, Syria still maintains the aircraft was in Syrian airspace when it was shot down.
Syria, which joined in Turkish efforts to locate the wreckage and pilots, earlier claimed to have handed the tail section of the plane over to Turkey, which bore visible bullet holes -- evidence that it was shot down by short-range weapons and thus in Syrian airspace.