Passenger flight diverts to escape Syrian anti-aircraft missiles

U.S. Marine Corps photo

A Cham Wings Airlines Airbus A320-200 was forced to make an emergency landing in fear of being targeted by the Syrian anti-aircraft defense.

The aircraft, registered YK-BAB, was performing flight 6Q-514 from Al-Najaf, Iraq, to Damascus, Syria, with 172 people on board. Cham Wings Airlines, the operator, is a regional Syrian carrier based in Damascus. It operates a fleet of four Airbus A320-200s.

As the flight was approaching its destination, four Israeli F-16 fighter jets fired multiple missiles against targets located on the outskirts of Damascus, without entering Syrian airspace. Fearing the plane could be targeted by Syrian anti-aircraft systems that were about to retaliate, a Syrian air traffic controller advised the flight crew to divert. The aircraft made an emergency landing at Khmeimim Air Base, controlled by the Russian military, in northwestern Syria.

In 2015, in the context of the Syrian civil war, Russia has been given land adjacent to Bassel Al-Assad International Airport in Latakia, to build the Khmeimim Air Base. Since then, it has been the main base of operations of the Russian permanent presence in Syria.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has accused Israel of using the commercial flight as a shield to escape the Syrian counter-attack. That accusation is not unprecedented, as Russia is believed to have already lost a plane in a similar maneuver. 

On September 17, 2018, a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 electronic intelligence (ELINT) reconnaissance aircraft disappeared 35 kilometers from the Syrian coast on the night of September 17, 2018. Fifteen soldiers were on board, they all perished. 

The plane had been shot down by a Russian-made S-200 long-range surface-to-air missile system operated by the Syrian military. At the time, the Russian Ministry of Defense also blamed the Israeli F-16s that were carrying out an airstrike on Syrian chemical facilities in the industrial zone of Latakia of using the Il-20 aircraft, which has an effective reflective surface greater than that of the F-16, as a cover.

More recently, the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was shot by a missile from a Tor-M1 surface-to-air system near Tehran, Iran, killing 176 people on January 8, 2020. An operator of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), stationed in Bid Kaneh, allegedly mistook the Boeing 737-800 for a cruise missile.


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