President Erdogan's jet disguised itself as civilian aircraft to 'vanish' from Turkey rebel jets' radar

The president's pilots switched their radio transponder to match that of a Turkish Airlines passenger jet allowing the jet to blend in with civilian traffic

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 21 July 2016 09:35
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declares a state of emergency as he addresses the nation in a live television broadcast from the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey, 21 July, 2016
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declares a state of emergency as he addresses the nation in a live television broadcast from the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey, 21 July, 2016

Rebel Turkish fighter jets were tracking President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's private plane when it suddenly "vanished" from radar, saving the president's life and allowing him to put down the coup.

President Erdogan was returning to Istanbul from a holiday near the coastal resort of Marmaris when a faction in the military launched the coup on Friday.

His Gulfstream IV jet was forced to circle in a holding pattern just south of Istanbul, unable to land because rebel forces had taken over the city's Ataturk airport.

As the plane circled, two rebel F-16s searched for the jet on their radars, finally picking it out among the commercial traffic and moving to intercept.

"At least two F-16s harassed Erdogan's plane while it was in the air and en route to Istanbul," a former military officer with knowledge of events told Reuters. "They locked their radars on his plane and on two other F-16s protecting him."

"Why they didn't fire is a mystery," he added.

Another senior official said the presidential business jet had been "in trouble in the air" but gave no further details.

The president's Gulfstream IV was reportedly able to evade detection by changing its identity to match that of a civilian airliner, according to David Cenciotti, an Italian aviation expert blogging on The Aviationist.

The president's pilots switched their radio transponder to that of a Turkish Airlines passenger jet, THY 8456, allowing the jet to blend in with civilian traffic.

The rebel fighters were unable to take the risk of accidentally shooting down a passenger jet full of tourists and later broke contact after being engaged by two loyalist F-16s and eventually broke contact, according to Mr Cenciotti.

Forces loyal to the president were able to reopen Ataturk airport, allowing him land safely and rally his supporters to defeat the coup.

Turkey criticized over post-coup backlash

The Turkish parliament is expected to approve the president's request for a three-month state of emergency following the failed coup.

In an address to the nation on Wednesday night, Mr Erdogan announced a cabinet decision to seek additional powers, saying the state of emergency would give the government the tools to rid the military of the "virus" of subversion.

The state of emergency will give the government sweeping powers to expand a crackdown that has already included mass arrests and the closure of hundreds of schools.

Turkish state media said a further 32 judges and two military officers had been detained by authorities during the crackdown since last week's coup, bringing the total number of people arrested up to 10,000. Nearly 60,000 civil service employees have been dismissed and hundreds of schools closed.

The targeting of education ties in with the president's belief his former ally and current nemesis Fetullah Gulen, who runs a network of schools worldwide, seeks to infiltrate the Turkish education system to bend the country to his will. Mr Gulen and his supporters have denied any involvement in the coup.

Mr Erdogan, who had been accused of autocratic conduct even before this week's tough crackdown, said the state of emergency would counter threats to Turkish democracy.

"This measure is in no way against democracy, the law and freedoms," he said after a meeting with cabinet ministers and security advisers on Wednesday night.

The president also suggested military purges would continue: "As the commander in chief, I will also attend to it so that all the viruses within the armed forces will be cleansed."

Additional reporting by agencies

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