Both sides could be lying in Russian fighter jet incident, scientists say

The circumstances behind Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian fighter jet last week continue to be hotly debated between the two countries.

Turkey has insisted that it warned the jet 10 times within five minutes that it was straying into its airspace. Russia, however, disputes that, saying the jet was shot down over Syria by a Turkish missile.

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After analyzing the incident, astrophysicists Tom van Doorsslaere and Giovanni Lapenta say that both sides are lying about what happened. They said they believe they are the first to analysis the incident using the principles of physics.

By assessing the speed and altitude of the plane at the time of the attack, the scientists from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium concluded that the plane was in Turkish airspace but for a much shorter time than the Turkish government alleges. They found it was there for only 7.5 seconds, rather than the 17 seconds alleged by Turkey.

The scientists, in a blog post, qustioned the 10 warnings reportedly issued over 5 minutes citing plane's speed, and therefore, its possible distance from Turkish airspace.

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“How could the Turkish air force predict that the Russian jet was about to enter Turkish air space? Military jets are very agile, and in theory the Russian jet could have turned at the last moment to avoid Turkish airspace,” they wrote, according to a translation of the blog post. “The warnings issued to the Russian pilots were mere speculation at the moment they were made.”

The scientists also questioned Russia's contention of the plane's flight path after the rocket attack. In a map distributed by Russia, it appears that the plane made a 90 degree turn after being hit by the rocket.

That would have been impossible, the scientists claim.

“This is scientific nonsense: the direction of the plane can only change if a force is applied to it. The momentum (mass times velocity) of the rocket and the explosion is many times smaller than the momentum of the jet, and can therefore only produce a small change in direction during the collision,” the scientists wrote. “A change in direction of 90 degrees can only be caused by an object that is many times heavier or faster than the jet.”

Lapenta acknowledged to this last claim is "controversial." The scientists have gotten a lot of comments former fighter pilots, who claiim it would have possible for the jet to make a sharp turn - just not as sharp as shown on the Russian map.

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While the researchers contend the claims of both countries should be “taken with a grain of salt,” it is unlikely the findings will do much to settle the matter. They have yet to be peer reviewed and so far no authority investigating the incident has contacted them to consider their findings.

"The story has been run by both Russian and Turkish media. But each reports only the part where we say the other nation’s story is not physically possible," Lapenta told in an email. "The Russians report we say the Turkish story is wrong and the Turkish that we say the Russian story is wrong. But we say both are not possible."

Aydan Karamanoglu, the first counsel and spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., told they had not seen this "so-called scientific report" but stood by their description of events.

"The fact that the Russian jet violated Turkish air space has been corroborated not only by the Turkish authorities but
by U.S. and NATO authorities," Karamanoglu said. "This violation occurred despite 10 warnings. These warnings have been heard by third country pilots in the vicinity."

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. did not respond to a request for comment.