Two missiles were reportedly fired at a Russian plane with at least 159 passengers on board that was flying over Syrian territory. Russian officials admit the jet faced danger, but are not talking of a targeted attack.
The news broke in on Monday as Interfax, citing “an informed source in Moscow,” reported that a Russian passenger plane was attacked.
“Syrian [officials] informed us that on Monday morning, unidentified forces launched two ground-to-air missiles which exploded in the air very close to a civilian aircraft belonging to a Russian airline,” the source told the Russian agency.
The pilots reportedly managed to maneuver the plane in time however, “saving the lives of passengers.”
It is believed the aircraft was intentionally targeted, “but it remains unclear whether the attackers knew it was Russian or not,” the source added.
However, Russian officials, though admitting the plane might have been endangered, are not yet talking of a targeted attack.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s said on its website the plane’s crew at 4.55 PM Moscow time (12.55 GMT) “detected battle action on the ground that, according to the crew, could constitute a threat to the 159 passengers on board the plane.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry is now “taking emergency measures to clarify all the circumstances of this situation, including making contact with the Syrian authorities,” the ministry’s spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich said.
The plane that was allegedly targeted belonged to Nordwind Airlines – a Russian charter air carrier – and was identified as an Airbus A320. On April 29 it was en route to the city of Kazan, in Russia’s republic of Tatarstan, from Egypt’s resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.
So far, there are no grounds to claim that the aircraft became a target of a missile attack, experts say.
It was flying over a mountainous area in Syria when one of the pilots noticed “flashes on the ground.” After that, to keep safe, it was decided to increase the height of the flight, Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for Russian Union of Tourist Industry told RIA Novosti.
“No one was injured, and the plane was not damaged. The aircraft landed in Kazan as had been planned,” the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism told news agencies. There were 159 passengers and eight crew members on-board the aircraft.
Meanwhile, Syrian aviation authorities received no indication of the alleged attack on the Russian plane, says the director of Syrian Airlines, Ghaida Abdullatif:
“We contacted the service that monitors traffic within Syrian airspace. None of the air traffic control services or other ground services at the airports in Damascus and Latakia have confirmed the information of a Russian plane being fired at“.
Russian experts have already voiced their doubts that a passenger plane can actually perform kind of maneuvers that could help it avoid a missile attack.
“Planes are usually attacked either from the side or from above. A pilot could not have seen the missiles ,” Vladimir Gerasimov, a Russian pilot and an expert on flight security told RT. “
A passenger plane crew simply couldn’t see what’s behind. And if something is approaching the plane from the opposite direction – the speed doubles, so there is no time to do anything, ” he added.
The civil war in Syria between the government of President Bashar Assad and opposition forces has been raging for over two years, claiming the lives of more than 70,000 people according to UN estimates. Assad says he is fighting an insurgency that has been sponsored from abroad.