#PutinAtWar: Russian Jet Crashes Off Syrian Coast

Photos surface on social media allegedly capturing a Russian fighter jet crashing in Syria

Left: (Source: Twitter / iqAirForce); Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

On May 3, 2018, photos surfaced on social media, which allegedly showed a Russian military plane crash into the Mediterranean near Syria. On the same day, articles followed from the Moscow Times, RT, and other Russian media outlets reporting on the incident.

A Russian fighter jet reportedly crashed off the coast of Syria near a Russian airbase, killing two pilots in what appeared to be an accident. @DFRLab took a closer look at the available imagery and reports to ascertain if the claims were true.

Background

According to the article from RT, a Russian military jet crashed off the coast of Syria’s Latakia. On Thursday morning, a Russian Su-30SM (NATO reporting name: Flanker-C) went down in the Mediterranean Sea after taking off from Khmeimim Airbase nearby. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense:

Pilots fought to take the aircraft under control till the last minute.

Twitter user @MGhorab3 was one of the first to post imagery of the crash. The two pictures embedded in the post provided a views of the crash site immediately after impact from two different angles.

https://twitter.com/MGhorab3/status/991947153810522113/photo/1

The post did not contain a lot of information, but did mention the port city of Jabla as the location where the pictures were taken. As the location was not mentioned in the Russian media articles, we checked if the location of the photos could be geolocated. Both photos, according to a reverse image search, were not previously posted and are likely genuine.
 
As the port city of Jabla is small and its coastline is not long, it was relatively easy to find the locations from which the photos were taken.

The two locations captured in the photos: port city of Jabla. (Source: GoogleMaps)

The first photo was taken from an apartment building facing the sea. The unique shape of the top floor outline helped to geolocate the exact buildings captured in the photo.

Geolocation of the first photo. Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: Twitter / @mGhorab3).

The second photo was taken a few blocks to the south from the first one. A small structure, a railing between the road and the coast line, and the road verge helped to find the exact location captured in the second photo.

Geolocation of the second photo. Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: Twitter / @mGhorab3).

The smoke plume in both photos appeared very similar, which further suggested the authenticity of the photos. The approximate distance between Khmeimim Airbase and the crash site was about fivekilometers.

Distance from Khmeimim airbase to the approximate crash site. (Source: GoogleMaps)

The Su-30SM was the first warplane of its type to be lost by the Russian military Syria. No reason was given for the loss of the aircraft. Thus, the cause of the crash could range from birds in the engine to mechanical failure. Reportedly, both crewmen aboard the jet died in the crash. On the same day, the Armenian Defense Ministry reported that Major Albert Davidyan, the captain of the crew, was an ethnic Armenian.

Conclusions

The Sukhoi-30SM is considered to be one of Russia’s most advanced multirole fighters, and up until recent events none were lost in Syria. These jets never constituted the majority of the military aircraft in Khmeimim airbase, but were often used in Syria to launch air-to-ground missiles at rebel targets and to escort attack planes and strategic bombers. Reportedly, the jet did not go down due to enemy fire, but nonetheless this incident brought Russia’s official military losses in Syria to 86 dead.

@DFRLab will continue to monitor Russian military operations and developments in Syria.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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