Greece’s air force and the country at large are mourning the death of a pilot Thursday whose single-seat Mirage 2000-5 fighter jet crashed into the sea north of the central Aegean island of Skyros after returning from a mission to intercept Turkish jets.
The Hellenic Armed forces declared three days of national mourning.
According to reports, the jet piloted by 34-year-old Captain Giorgos Baltadoros was one of two Mirages that departed from Skyros shortly after 11 a.m. to intercept a pair of Turkish F-16s that violated Greek air space in the area between the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos and Chios.
However, when the Mirage pair arrived in the area the Turkish jets had already left and Baltadoros sent out a signal that the F-16s were beyond visual range. On their return to Skyros, both jets were reportedly flying at a low altitude due to poor visibility on account of cloudy weather and the African dust in the atmosphere. An alert was sounded after the pilot of the other Mirage said at 12.15 p.m. that he saw Baltadoros’s jet suddenly “dip,” 9 nautical miles northeast of Skyros.
“Today we lost a great air force pilot who died in the line of duty,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a tweet. “Our pain is great. Our thoughts are with his family and colleagues. On behalf of the Greek State, I express my deep gratitude and my sincere condolences.”
Tsipras also received condolences in a phone call from his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos described Baltadoros as “a Greek pilot in the pantheon of heroes,” noting that the airman fell “while fighting to defend our national sovereignty and our territorial integrity.”
News that Baltadoros’s jet went off the radar came as the Greek-US High Level Consultative Committee was being convened in Athens by Kammenos and the US’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy Thomas Goffus and Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Jonathan Cohen.
The meeting led, among other things, to a decision for a memorandum of understanding with regard to NATO activities, and naval support installations, at the Souda base on Crete.
After the meeting, the American Embassy said the US considers Greece a pillar of stability and that its support is decisive to achieving common foreign policy goals in the region.