5 February 2018
Russian pilot blows himself up to avoid capture by jihadists
Maj. Roman Filipov’s Sukhoi 25SM fighter was struck by a portable surface-to-air missile as he flew low over opposition-held Idlib in northwestern Syria, according to the UK’s Telegraph.
The 33-year-old pilot managed to keep the plane in the air briefly but was forced to bail out after one of the engines failed and his flight controls became unresponsive.
Extremists from al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham opened fire on him after his parachute opened, but he made it to the ground and shot two of the rebels with his Stechkin pistol, the Express reported.
Dramatic video circulating in social media shows the fighters ducking as the gutsy aviator then shouts, “This is for our guys!” He then pulls the grenade’s pin and blows himself up.
Filipov, from the eastern city of Vladivostok, was posthumously nominated for the Kremlin’s highest honor, the Hero of Russia, according to the Russian daily Kommersant.
“Maj. Roman Filipov fought an unequal battle with his service weapon until the last minute of his life,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“When surrounded by the terrorists and heavily wounded, the Russian officer blew himself up with a grenade when the militants got within several dozen meters of him.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added: “The pilot died heroically. We are proud of our heroes.”
Filipov had been flying at an altitude of about 13,000 feet over the de-escalation zone when he was shot down. Initial reports suggested he had been captured, or that he had been killed in the fighting.
His jet was the first Russian craft to be downed since Moscow intervened in the war in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2015.
As a result of the downing, Russia ordered its warplanes in Syria to fly higher to avoid being shot down by shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, the Izvestia daily reported Monday.
Russian defense officials said planes would only fly above 16,400 feet to keep the pilots safe.
The Defense Ministry said such a policy had previously been in effect, but that the fighter jets had for some reason started flying lower in recent days, Reuters reported.