The Turkish coup d'état dominated headlines over the weekend, starting on Friday as news trickled out of rogue elements of the military seizing key bridges in Istanbul and fighter jets screaming over the capital, Ankara. But the big question in the coup's early hours was, where was President Tayyip Erdogan? Key to a coup is capturing – or even killing – the leader you're revolting against, and the Turkish military failed to do that. But it came close.
Erdogan was on vacation at the time of the coup and barely escaped a rebel bombing of his compound. While that attack narrowly missed him, the rebels had a second opportunity as the president flew back to Istanbul. According to Reuters, two rebel-controlled F-16s had Erdogan's plane, possibly a Gulfstream IV, in their sights, but didn't fire.
"At least two F-16s harassed Erdogan's plane while it was in the air and en route to Istanbul. They locked their radars on his plane and on two other F-16s protecting him," a former military officer with knowledge of the situation told Reuters. "Why they didn't fire is a mystery."
A Turkish military official confirmed that the rebels harassed the president's plane while it flew to Istanbul, with another official telling Reuters Erdogan encountered "trouble in the air."
Two loyalist F-16s escorted Erdogan's plane, which might explain why the rebels didn't fire – perhaps the rebels were okay with shooting down the president's plane, but couldn't bring themselves to fire on fellow F-16 pilots. What's clear is that after landing at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, President Erdogan gave a defiant speech that rallied remaining elements of the military and the country's citizens to beat down the revolutionaries. Had the rebels taken action in the air, the outcome of the coup could have been very different.