What Really Happened To Flight Şafak 46?

Exactly one month ago, on 22 June 2012 one RF-4ETM Phantom II airplane call sign Şafak 46 from 173. Squadron of Turkish Air force took off from Erhaç airbase.

The mission of the plane was to help to the calibration of a radar in Hatay Turkey. All radar and radio contact with the plane was lost on 11:57 am local time.

The first official announcement made by Turkish General Staff on the same day, was that the contact with the plane was lost and a search and rescue operation has been initiated.

On the same day late at night it was announced by the prime minister that the lost plane was shot down by Syria. This claim was later accepted by Syrian news agency SANA. Syria claimed that they have shot down the Turkish plane inside the Syrian airspace with anti aircraft gun fire believing it was an Israeli plane. Turkey responded to these claims that the plane was not in a covert operation and its communication and IFF systems were open and operational and the plane was shot down by Syria outside of the Syrian air space. The radar tracks of the plane published both by Turkey and Syria showed that Şafak 46 did flew through the Syrian airspace 5 minutes long. The plane left the Syrian airspace ten minutes before it was shot down and never entered again. Turkey insisted that this was an navigation error and the flight control in Turkey warned the plane about this error.

Between 22 and 26 June 2012, Turkish Navy and Coast Guard units searched an area of 70 x 23 nautical miles and found some floating debris. The naval research ship TCG Çeşme located some underwater targets suitable to be the wreckage of the plane with its side scan sonar. but it was the US owned research vessel R/V Nautilus and its ROV’s that found the wreckage on 5th July 2012, 8,6 nautical miles from Syrian coast and recovered the bodies of the pilot Captain Gökhan ERTAN and WSO Lieutenant Hasan Hüseyin AKSOY.

R/V Nautilus also provided images from the wreckage with its high definition video camera and/or digital stereo still cameras.

Up to that point the incident was more or less clear event. An unarmed Turkish military reconnaissance plane was shot by Syria either inside the Syrian air space by anti aircraft guns; according to Syrian claims or outside of the Syrian air space by anti aircraft missile (as the range of the Syrian AAA cannot reach targets flying outside the Syrian airspace) according to Turkish claims.

On 11th July 2012 Turkish General Staff made an announcement about this incident and stated and the from the investigations conducted on the pieces of wreckage salvaged from the bottom of the sea and from the items found floating on the surface showed no evidence of any petroleum based fire incendiary or accelerator. Furthermore there was no evidence of any organic and inorganic explosive material residue.

In the same statement it was also announced that there were no evidence of the wreckage of the plane that it was shot down by AAA fire.

That statement created more questions and served as source for more conspiracy theories.

Two days later Turkish General Staff made to make another announcement stating that the evidence shows that the plane was not shot down by anti-aircraft guns and the exact way to determine how the plane was shot down by Syria will be possible after salvaging remaining larger parts of the plane from the sea floor.

Now this is a problem. While she was on the scene the equipment of R/V Nautilus provided very important information and it was possible to bring smaller pieces from the plane to surface. But R/V Nautilus is now in the Black Sea and is conducting scientific research as she was scheduled to do. My understanding is that there was a behind the door agreement between USA and Turkey to use the ship for a short period of time to recover the bodies of the pilots and to locate the plane. Now with R/V Nautilus away, Turkey had to create means to recover the plane. This is why the US-based Phoenix Marine, Inc., an underwater services company was awarded with an undisclosed contract to salvage the remains of the RF-4ETM.

Until the Phoenix Marine Inc. completes its work we have to speculate what really happened to Şafak 46, although I am pretty sure that because Eastern Med is a hot place right now and USA, Russia, UK, Israel, and Cyprus and many other states are focused to this region must have been witness the shooting of the Turkish plane. Will they come forward with their information is another question.


For further analysis about the shooting of Şafak 46 read this excellent article.

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