A Russian pilot shouted “this is for our guys” before detonating a grenade to evade capture by rebel fighters in Syria.
Major Roman Filipov ejected from his Sukhoi 25SM fighter jet with a parachute after it was shot down on Saturday while he was flying low over opposition-held Idlib in northwestern Syria.
It was the first Russian jet to be downed since Moscow intervened in the war in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2015.
After the jet was struck by a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft MANPAD missile, the 33-year-old pilot kept the plane in the air but was eventually forced to eject after one of the engines failed and flight controls became unresponsive.
Militants from al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) opened fire on him after his parachute opened, but he made it to the ground. According to a video circulating on social media on Monday, Major Filipov shot two fighters before detonating a grenade.
Syrian men standing at the site of a downed Sukhoi-25 fighter jet in the the Syrian city of Saraqib, southwest of Aleppo. Credit: AFP
The fighters ducked as Major Filipov was heard shouting: “this is for our guys” before pulling the pin.
Maj Filipov, from the eastern city of Vladivostok, has been posthumously nominated for the Kremlin's highest honour - the Hero of Russia, according to a report in Russian daily newspaper Kommersant.
The last battle of the Russian Su-25 pilot.
Pilot was shooting at the militants who surrounded him and blew himself up with a grenade in order to avoid captivity by militants. pic.twitter.com/prBgITWa9V
— Military Advisor (@miladvisor) February 4, 2018
Russia's defence ministry confirmed the reports, saying: "Major Roman Filipov fought an unequal battle with his service weapon until the last minute of his life.
"When surrounded by the terrorists and heavily wounded, the Russian officer blew himself up with a grenade when the militants got within several dozen metres of him."
"The pilot died heroically," Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman added. "We are proud of our heroes."
Russia has since ordered its warplanes in Syria to fly at 16,000ft to avoid being shot down by shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles.
It said that such a policy had previously been in force, but that the SU-25s had for some reason started flying at lower altitudes in recent days.
Mr Peskov said the weapons posed a "huge danger" to all governments.
It came as Russia intensified their raids on Idlib overnight and into Monday morning in retaliation.
Civil defence workers said air raids struck the towns of Kafr Nubl and Maasran, as well as the cities of Saraqeb, Maarat al Numan and Idlib, and that several deaths and dozens of injuries were reported as rescuers dug through the rubble.
A hospital was hit in Maarat al Numan and at least five people were feared killed in another attack that damaged a residential building in Kafr Nubl.
Video recorded by rescuers showed hospitals workers moving premature babies from destroyed incubators, trying to protect them from the dust:
Heart breaking footage emerging from #MaaratNuman Hospital's Natal Care Unit. Days-old babies taken out of incubators and into safety. Nurses discussing transportation to #Ariha #Idlib pic.twitter.com/bzqwBSngW5
— Riam Dalati (@Dalatrm) February 4, 2018
In Idlib city, the provincial capital, one witness said a five-storey building was levelled and that at least fifteen people were feared dead.
Air strikes on Saturday after the downing of the jet killed at least 10 people, including children, in Khan al Subl near where the plane crashed, rescuers said.
"We are pulling bodies from under collapsed walls. The Russians are taking their revenge on civilians, many of whom were already displaced and had fled their homes from earlier bombardment," said Ahmad Hilal, a civil defence rescuer.
A chemical attack was also reported in the northwestern town of Saraqeb, where five people were admitted to hospital experiencing difficulty breathing.
Assad forces are thought to have carried out three chlorine attacks on civilian areas in the last four days, in contravention of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
A child injured in an airstrike receives medical treatment at a field hospital after an airstrike in Idlib, Syria Credit: Getty
The Syrian army and its Iranian Shia militias allies made a string of gains in the last week after capturing a major air base that brought them just 7.5 miles from Saraqeb, the first heavily populated city in Idlib within their reach.
They were pushing towards the main Damascus-Aleppo highway, the capture of which would cut rebel supply lines and open the door to an army advance into the heart of the province.
The bombardment from the sky and fears of revenge by advancing Syrian troops and Iranian-backed militias have led to an exodus of tens of thousands of civilians further north to the safety of makeshift camps on the Syrian side of the Turkish border.
Syrians have poured into Idlib at an accelerating rate over the last two years, forced to abandon their homes in other parts of Syria that the government and its foreign military allies have recaptured from rebels.