YEMEN

Video: Iranian ‘hero pilot’ defies Saudi orders to leave Yemen

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A video has emerged online showing jets from a Saudi-led alliance flanking an Iranian plane that was trying to land in Yemen's capital Sanaa.  The plane was transporting humanitarian aid, according to Iranian officials, and the pilot refused orders to turn round, according to officials on both sides.

In an interview with the Iranian media, Pilot Behzad Sedaghatnia said that about 30 minutes after entering Yemen’s airspace on Tuesday, the two F15 jets approached his plane. They got very close, “so close I could see their pilots and wave to them”, he said. Over the radio, they ordered him to turn around and return to Iran, but he ignored their requests. They then ordered him to follow them to an airbase in Saudi Arabia. Again, he ignored their request. He kept flying until he reached Sanaa but the jets bombed the airport’s runways, preventing him from landing, so he had to turn back and go home to Iran.

According to airport authorities, a Yemeni plane on the ground was destroyed, and both the landing and takeoff runways were badly damaged. Until they are fixed, all humanitarian aid flights have been diverted to the airport at the Red Sea city of Hodaidah. The airport there was also recently bombed, but is still operational. The Red Cross has warned that the fighting in Yemen has pushed the country into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Footage of the bombing aftermath at Sanaa aiport.

Meanwhile, the Iranian pilot has become a hero back home, earning heaps of praise on social media.

"Honestly his courage is unique, that’s not something that any pilot could do. Long live the Captain!"

"Iranian pilots are dangerous even with a hang glider!"

The incident highlights the growing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Yemen. Yemen’s minority Houthi Shiites took over the capital Sanaa last September, prompting president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee into exile. Fighting against loyalist troops, regional tribes and al Qaeda militants promptly plunged the country into spiralling violence. Since late March, a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf states has been waging an air strike campaign against the Houthis, to whom Iran has been supplying aid.