On Saturday afternoon, a pilot of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) found his MiG-23 unable to maintain altitude due to technical failure and radar issues while conducting an air raid north of Idlib; subsequently, the troubled pilot ejected from the aircraft while the warplane crashed in Hatay province.
Minutes later, Turkish security forces reached the crash site and discovered the MiG-23 in tatters. However, the pilot himself was not in the cockpit and nowhere to be found, according to the Governor of Hatay province.
Crashsite of downed MiG-23 (previously reported as MiG-21) in Hatay province. SyAAF pilot is yet to be found or detained, may be on the run. pic.twitter.com/okyl7arwHu
— Chris Tomson (@TheDaneChris) March 4, 2017
Shortly after, the Syrian Government released a statement on the incident indicating that the pilot had landed on Syrian territory.
Nevertheless, this appears to be an unlikely scenario as the Turkish Armed Forces discovered an abandoned parachute near the crash site in a forest in the Altınözü district.
Rumours indicate that the SyAAF pilot has escaped the crash site and either fled by vehicle or gone into hiding. Hatay province holds a large population of Alawites who tend to be pro-Syrian; thus, speculations suggest that local villagers are aiding the pilot.
The Turkish Army and General Directorate of Security (police force) have now put the area on lockdown in an attempt to track down the pilot. His fate remains undetermined and he may be captured in the coming hours.
Hatay governorate is refered to by Syrians as ‘Liwa Iskenderun’. The province was annexed by Turkey during a controversial referendum in 1939. Damascus does not recognize Hatay as sovereign Turkish territory and still lays claim to the province.