UPDATE: 11:43 a.m. EST -- The two pilots who auto-ejected themselves from a Russian plane after it was shot down earlier Tuesday may still be alive, the Hurriyet Daily News reported. Although rebel groups had claimed to have killed the pilots, the Turkish news website said they are "alive and well" in the hands of rebel groups, according to security sources in Ankara. The Turkish National Intelligence Organization is reportedly in touch with the rebel groups, and hopes to get the pilots back.
Original story: Turkmen rebels have claimed they shot dead two Russian pilots in their parachutes after they auto-ejected from their plane, which was shot down by Turkish jets Tuesday. Turkey’s Dogan Haber Agency reportedly spoke to the rebels who said they killed the pilots.
CNN Turk’s foreign editor tweeted: “The Turkmen rebels DHA spoke to said: We hit at the two pilots after they parachuted,” according to the Telegraph.
DHA Muhabirinin görüştüğü Türkmen 2'nci Sahil Tümen Komutan Yardımcısı Alpaslan Çelik: Pilotlardan ikisini de paraşütle inerken vurduk
— Damla Doğan (@dmladogan) November 24, 2015
The Dogan News Agency also reported that the Turkmen rebels said they had seized control of the key Kızıldağ area in the region.
Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24 fighter jet after it said the plane was intruding on its airspace. Russia has denied that its plane or its pilots were threatening Turkey, and the two countries warned of further action as they responded to the incident.
Despite the claims by the Turkmen rebels, there are still conflicting reports of the pilots’ fates. Russian helicopters were searching the area for the pilots along with plane wreckage, according to the Guardian, which cited British-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The jet was shot down near Jabal al-Turkman in northern Latakia, the Guardian reported.
Two videos were released on social media Tuesday from separate Syrian rebel groups that claimed to have the pilots in their custody. Alwiya al-Ashar (the Tenth Brigade), a Syrian rebel group that is part of the umbrella group Free Syrian Army, initially published a video claiming to show the capture of one Russian pilot. But the group added in a statement posted on its Facebook page that it did not have the second pilot. The authenticity of the videos is unconfirmed and may be called into question if the Turkmen rebels’ claim that they killed both pilots is true.
There were also reports that the Russian helicopter was taken down while searching for the pilots, the Guardian reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was unclear whether the helicopter was forced down by rebel groups or if it was due to technical problems.