Russian Pilot Safe After Jet Shot Down on Syria-Turkey Border

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MOSCOW — The Russian pilot plucked from behind enemy lines after his jet was shot down by Turkey said Wednesday he was eager to get back to the battlefield.

A 12-hour rescue operation successfully brought Capt. Konstantin Murtakhtin — who had ejected from the plane — back to a Russian base in Syria's Latakia province early Wednesday, according to a tweet from the Defense Ministry.

Murtakhtin said he was "alright in general now" following the dramatic events.

"Our military medics can work wonders,” he said in remarks carried on Russian television.

“I am very eager to be discharged from the hospital to get back to the ranks. I will be asking the command to keep me on this base — I have a little debt to pay back for the commander," he added, referring to Lt. Col. Oleg Peshkov, who Moscow said died in the ordeal.

Murtakhtin's warplane crashed in an area controlled by militants trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad, a key Russian ally who the West accuses of trying to prop up through airstrikes.

Russia says it is targeting ISIS with airstrikes — but many areas where the extremists don't have a presence have been bombed and other anti-Assad groups say their positions have been hit.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Murtakhtin had managed to evade capture in hostile territory with the help of Syrian special forces.

Murtakhtin was awarded an Order of Courage medal, while Peshkov was posthumously given the Hero of Russia award — one of the highest honorary titles bestowed by the Russian government.

Image: Still image from video showing a war plane crashing in flames in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Turkish-Syrian border
A Ruswsian plane crashes in flames in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Turkish-Syrian border on Nov. 24, 2015. Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian-made warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday after repeatedly warning it over air space violations, Turkey officials said, but Moscow said it could prove the jet had not left Syrian air space. Turkish presidential sources said the warplane was a Russian-made SU-24. The Turkish military, which did not confirm the plane's origin, said it had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish airspace. Russia's defence ministry said one of its fighter jets had been downed in Syria, apparently after coming under fire from the ground, but said it could prove the plane was over Syria for the duration of its flight, Interfax news agency reported. REUTERS/Reuters TV/Haberturk TVATTENTION EDITORS - THIS VIDEO WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS IMAGE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. UNPROCESSED VERSION OF THE VIDEO WAS PROVIDED SEPARATELY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. TURKEY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN TURKEY. Haberturk via Reuters

Russia has flatly denied Turkey's claim that its pilots were warned at least 10 times in five minutes before the jet was shot down.

"The Russian plane was shot from behind, without warning," Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov told Europe 1 radio.

Murtakhtin also rejected Turkey's version, saying that "there was no contact at all ... . The missile hit the plane’s tail all of a sudden. We didn’t even have a visual of it.”

Russia's military said that Alexander Pozynich, who was among those dispatched to rescue the pilots, had died in the operation. Pozynich was also awarded the Order of Courage posthumously.

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The incident between Russia and Turkey has ratcheted up East-West tensions and threatened to scupper international efforts to defeat ISIS and find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war.

There were signs that Turkey was attempting to prevent the situation from boiling over. Turkey's Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Tuesday saying "we have no intentions whatsoever to escalate the situation. Our contacts with the Russian authorities are ongoing to this end."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said while Moscow will not wage war on Turkey, it would seriously reconsider relations and does not have plans to host any visits from Turkish officials.

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