SYRIA -Two USAF F-15s caused a lot of panic aboard a Mahan Air Airbus A310 on Thursday, while the airliner was flying over Syria en route to Beirut in Lebanon. The U.S. military confirmed later on Thursday that one of its fighter jets had flown within a few thousand feet of an Iranian commercial aircraft over Syria to “inspect it,” CNN reports. The U.S. statement came soon after Iranian state media released onboard videos of apparently shaken and injured passengers.
A spokesman for Central Command – the US military command responsible for the Middle East – said in a statement that one USAF F-15 conducted a “standard visual inspection” of the privately owned Iranian airliner at a close distance of about 1,000 meters (about 3,300 feet).
This was corrected later by a U.S. defense official who said to CNN that the closest the F-15 actually came to the Iranian airliner was about 1,500 meters (about 4900 feet), instead of the earlier estimated 1,000 meters.
The U.S. defense official also said to CNN that the F-15 flew close to the Iranian aircraft because it appeared “to have deviated from” an established commercial air corridor. Iranian Mahan Air Flight 1152 was en route to Beirut from Tehran and flew through an established air corridor in Syrian airspace.
The Iranian state media Press TV reported that U.S. fighter jets had conducted “dangerous” maneuvers close to an Iranian passenger aircraft and that several passengers were injured in the incident.
According to Iranian national broadcaster IRIB the U.S. fighter jet’s maneuver was a “provocative” action that had forced the passenger aircraft’s pilot to lower altitude abrubtly.
A defense official also told CNN there were two USAF F-15’s in the air, but only one was sent to conduct the visual identification passenger aircraft.
A CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) spokesman said the incident occurred near a garrison used by the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, Al-Tanf – a small outpost in Syria near the Iraqi-Jordanian border that has been the scene of clashes between U.S. and pro-regime and Iranian forces.
“The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at Al-Tanf garrison. Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger aircraft, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft,” the statement said. “The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards.”
In an Iranian statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, “The incident is under investigation. Due political and legal measures will be taken upon completion of the information at hand,” Press TV reported.
(Head image: © Jerry Taha)