A Russian Su-30SM military jet crashed off the coast of Syria near Latakia on Thursday morning, RT reported. The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that both pilots on board were killed in the crash.
The jet took off Thursday morning from the Khmeimim Airbase before going down in the Mediterranean Sea. The pilots “fought to take the aircraft under control until the last minute,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The Khmeimim Airbase is far from the frontlines, and the ministry confirmed that the crash was not the result of enemy fire.
“According to preliminary information, the reason for the aviation disaster could have been birds getting into the engine,” the ministry said. “The plane was not struck by any projectile.”
A number of social media posts confirmed the crash, with a plume of smoke being visible for miles in the middle of the sea.
— MOHAMMED GHORAB (@MGhorab3) May 3, 2018
The Russian military is stationed in the area to support the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war.
In 2017, Russian and Syrian officials agreed to extend their presence in the area following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to withdrawal a large number of troops from Syria.
The Khmeimim Airbase and the naval site in the port city of Tartus have been given to Russia for 49 years with an option of automatic extension.
Russia utilizes the base to launch its warplanes that regularly carry out ground attacks against rebel groups, with a number of special forces and ground troops also being deployed.
The Su-30SM military jet is among Russia’s most advanced aircraft and was originally deployed back in 2012. They are capable of flying at speeds of 1,320 miles per hour, and each costs the Russian government around $37.5 million.
In Syria, the jets are often used to launch air-to-ground missiles at enemy combatants and to escort other military convoys.