World Bulletin / News Desk
The two pilots of a reconnaissance jet downed by Syria last month were buried on Friday, one day after their bodies were finally retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea, ending a week-long search.
A commemoration ceremony was held on Friday morning for Capt. Gökhan Ertan and Lt. Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy at the 7th Main Jet Base Erhaç, Malatya, from where the two pilots took off for the last time.
Parliamenta Speaker Cemil Çiçek, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and force commanders, as well as the families of the fallen pilots, attended the somber ceremony, which began with a minute of silence, following which prayers were said. Erdoğan and other government officials offered their condolences to the pilots' families.
A brief biography of the pilots was read to the audience during the ceremony. In a speech, Commander of the 7th Main Jet Base Gen. Mustafa Avcı said the two pilots were killed in international waters of the Mediterranean while performing an unarmed mission. He said the two pilots were heroes and offered his condolences to the families.
Ertan was buried at the Malatya Garrison Military Cemetery after the Friday prayer, following a funeral service at Kabristan Mosque in Malatya.
A funeral service was held for Aksoy at Ataköy Mosque in İstanbul following the afternoon prayer, also on Friday. He was buried at the Edirnekapı Military Cemetery.
Parliament Speaker Çiçek, Prime Minister Erdoğan, CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu and Chief of General Staff Gen. Özel attended both funerals, as did Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, Defense Minister Yılmaz and force commanders.
The funeral prayers were led by Hasan Kamil Yılmaz, vice president of the Religious Affairs Directorate.
The pilots' bodies were recovered from the seabed 8.6 nautical miles off the Syrian coast on Thursday. The bodies were found at a depth of 1,260 meters near the wreckage of the jet, which had broken into eight pieces. The bodies were flown to the eastern city of Malatya on Thursday, from where the jet had taken off on June 22.
The military had been searching for the wreckage of the plane and the pilots since the aircraft was shot down on June 22. It announced on Wednesday that the bodies had been found and that efforts were under way to retrieve the remains.
The Nautilus, a specially designed vessel, was brought in to recover the wreckage. The Nautilus is a vessel owned by US oceanic explorer Robert Ballard, best known for discovering the wreck of the Titanic.
Syrian forces shot down an RF-4E Phantom, an unarmed reconnaissance version of the F-4 fighter jet, on June 22, when, according to Ankara, it was on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems. Ankara says the jet was hit in international airspace after it briefly strayed into Syrian airspace.
However, Syria insists that the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire within Syrian airspace. Turkey, while commenting that the act would “not go unpunished,” emphasized that it does not intend to go to war with Syria.
The findings from the wreckage site and an autopsy on the bodies of the pilots conducted on Thursday revealed that the jet was most probably hit by a missile. Military experts say further tests are needed to confirm exactly what hit the jet, but findings indicate that it couldn't possibly have been an anti-aircraft weapon.