Jordanian authorities confirmed that the MiG-21 pilot landed at King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, near the Syrian border. Syrian state news named the pilot as Colonel Hassan Mirei al-Hamadeh and said his MiG was lost hear the southern border of Syria, but the government backtracked Thursday, denouncing the pilot as a “traitor” and demanding Jordan return the plane to Syria, Agence France Presse reported Thursday.
“The pilot is considered a deserter and a traitor to his country, and to his military honor, and he will be sanctioned under military rules,” state television quoted Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha as saying.
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 is a Soviet era supersonic jet fighter that has been widely exported. It has been in use since 1959. Nearly 11,500 have been built, making it one of the most-produced jet fighters in history.
With the obviously unstable situation in Syria, it is difficult to keep track of its armed forces arsenal, but Syria is believed to have 140-220 MiG-21s. Most of its air force uses former Soviet craft, including the MiG-23, 25 and more advanced 29. It also uses Su-24 “Fencers” and Su-22 “Fitters” for ground attack.
The British Broadcasting Corporation reported over the weekend that Jordan’s Minister of Information, Samih al-Maaytah, said al-Hamadeh was being debriefed. He reportedly took off from al-Dumair military airport, north-east of Damascus.
Ahmad Kassem, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army said the rebel side had encouraged the pilot to defect.