ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Syrian air force pilot who bailed out as his warplane crashed on Turkish territory told a Turkish rescue team his MiG-23 had been shot down, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Sunday.
The 56-year-old pilot was identified as Mehmet Sufhan, and medical staff said he was not in critical condition despite some fractures in his spine. He is being treated at a hospital in the Hatay region, a hospital spokeswoman said on Sunday.
In an initial statement to Turkish authorities, Sufhan said his aircraft was shot down on its way to strike rural areas near Idlib in northern Syria, Anadolu reported. He said he had taken off from Latakia in Syria.
Dogan news agency said the pilot, who crashed on Saturday, had been found around 40 km (25 miles) from the wreckage. He was first taken to a gendarmerie base and then to hospital.
Syrian state television quoted an army source on Saturday saying the air force had lost contact with a fighter jet on a mission near the Turkish border. It gave no details.
It was unclear why the aircraft had crashed, whether it had been attacked or suffered technical failure.
Combat operations by many militia and government forces come close to Turkey’s long frontier with Syria.
Turkey has been one of the foremost critics of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and supports rebels fighting him in the country’s six-year-old war. It currently has armed forces involved in operations along the Syrian side of the frontier.
Syrian state media said on Saturday its forces had been expanding control over former Islamic State-held villages in northwest Syria, an area close to Turkey’s Hatay region where the aircraft crashed.
The army’s gains follow a push to the south and east of the city of al-Bab, which was captured by Turkish-backed rebels late last month.
Reporting by Ece Toksabay. Editing by Ros Russell