According to reports emerging in Russian media, a Russian fighter was shot down by Syrian rebels on Saturday while conducting air strike operations near the city of Maasran in Idlib, Syria. The pilot reportedly successfully ejected from the aircraft, but was killed in a firefight with rebels who were attempting to take him prisoner.
Details regarding the incident remain sparse, but it would appear that the Russia Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft was participating in a recent ramp up the Russian air strike campaign in Syria, and had launched rockets at a target just before being hit by Syrian rebels. It is not immediately clear what platform was used to take the Russian fighter down, but unconfirmed reports seem to indicate that it was a man-portable air-defense system, or MANPAD, which is effectively a shoulder fired missile platform that is primarily used to engage low flying air craft like helicopters and ground attack planes. These platforms often come with guided munitions that home in on the infrared heat source created by an aircraft’s exhaust plumes.
Footage that has emerged on social media seems to show the pilot of the Su-25 successfully ejecting from the aircraft and parachuting to the ground. The Russian government has confirmed that the pilot communicated at least once after being hit, relaying that he would be landing in rebel controlled territory.
According to sources within the Russian military and quoted first by The Aviationist, the rebel group that shot down the aircraft attempted to take the downed pilot prisoner, however, the pilot opened fire with his sidearm, a Russian Stechkin automatic pistol or APS, forcing the rebels to engage and ultimately kill him. The Russian source, who claimed to have seen early images from the crash site, said the evidence clearly showed that the Russian pilot died fighting.