Search teams have reportedly found the boots and helmets belonging to two Turkish aviators whose plane was shot down by Syrian forces last week, but there’s still no sign of the pilots themselves.
Top Turkish officials said the helmets were found among the two-seat Air Force plane’s wreckage, Turkey’s prominent Hurriyet Daily reported. No parachutes have been found but the flyers’ boots were discovered days before, said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan said it was unclear whether the pilots had been able to eject before the plane went down.
That might not have mattered, according to former fighter pilot and ABC News consultant Steve Ganyard. The plane that was hit, reportedly a reconnaissance version of the F-4 Phantom fighter, is an old but extremely fast aircraft, capable of flying at over twice the speed of sound. Ganyard said that even if the pilots managed to eject, it would’ve been difficult for them to survive the ejection alone and it’s possible the sheer wind blast could have ripped the helmet and boots from them. If the pilots were unable to eject, Ganyard said, a plane as fast as the Phantom could have hit the water “as if it were concrete” - spreading debris wide and leaving little intact.
Still, the search continues.
In addition to the mystery of what happened to the pilots, Turkey and Syria continue to disagree about what led to the shoot down in the first place. In a letter written to the United Nations early this week, the Turkish government claimed the unarmed plane had been flying in international airspace when it suddenly came under fire from Syrian air defenses. After being hit, the plane turned and entered Syrian airspace before crashing, said the letter.