Rebel Turkish fighter jets were following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s private plane when it suddenly “disappeared” from radar, saving the president’s life and allowing him to quell the coup.
President Erdogan was returning to Istanbul from a vacation near the resort town of Marmaris when an army faction 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 took control of the city’s Atatürk Airport.
As the plane circled, two F-16 rebels searched for the plane on their radars, eventually spotted it among commercial traffic and moved to intercept it.
“At least two F-16s harassed Erdogan’s plane while it was in flight and en route to Istanbul,” a former military officer familiar with the events told Reuters. “They locked their radars on his plane and two other F-16s protecting him.”
“Why they didn’t shoot 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 could have escaped detection by changing its identity to match that of a civilian airliner, according to David Cenciotti, an Italian aviation expert. blog on The Aviator.
The president’s pilots replaced their radio transponder with that of a Turkish Airlines airliner, the THY 8456, allowing the plane to blend in with civilian traffic.
The rebel fighters could not take the risk of accidentally shooting down an airliner full of tourists and then broke contact after being hired by two loyal F-16s and ultimately broke contact, according to Cenciotti.
Forces loyal to the president were able to reopen Ataturk Airport, allowing him to land safely and rally his supporters to defeat the coup.
Turkey criticized for post-coup backlash
Turkey’s parliament is expected to approve the president’s request for a three-month state of emergency following the failed coup.
In a speech to the nation on Wednesday evening, 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 32 more judges and two military officers had been detained by authorities in the crackdown since last week’s coup, bringing the total number of those arrested to 10,000. 60,000 civil servants have been made redundant and hundreds of schools closed.
The targeting of education is linked to the president’s belief that his former ally and current nemesis Fetullah Gulen, who runs a network of schools around the world, is seeking 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 harsh crackdown, said the state of emergency would thwart threats to Turkish democracy.
“This measure is in no way contrary to democracy, law and freedoms,” he said after a meeting with ministers and security advisers on Wednesday evening.
The president also suggested that the military purges would continue: “As Commander-in-Chief, I will also take care of this so that all viruses within the armed forces are cleaned up.”
Additional reports by agencies