Two jets lost on Pelion

Four air force fighter pilots were feared dead after two twin-seater jets crashed into a mountain in central Greece during a training flight yesterday. By late yesterday, a ground-and-air search in the southern ranges of Mount Pelion had only located the wreckage of one of the two F-16 aircraft and the body of one of the pilots a couple of kilometers north of the village of Aghios Lavrentios, near Milies, some 20 kilometers east of Volos. The search, which was hampered by thick mist, was to continue all night. The names of the four pilots were not made public. Yesterday’s double crash was the third major fatal accident for Greece’s armed forces this year, following the September 11 loss of an army helicopter on a VIP transport flight off Mount Athos – in which 17 people, including five crewmen, died – and the April 8 electrocution deaths of five conscripts at an army outpost on the Evros border. The two F-16s from 111 Combat Wing, part of a now-aging batch delivered by US manufacturers in 1989, had taken off from the Nea Anchialos air base southwest of Volos around 2 p.m. They were on a training flight that included simulated interceptions of intruding foreign jets – a routine drill for the Greek air force whose fighter pilots have to deal, sometimes on a daily basis, with air-space violations by Turkish fighters that often evolve into fierce simulated dogfights. This has happened at least five times over the past 10 days. An air force statement said the planes were on the way back to base when «an ejection signal» came in from the Pelion area at 3 p.m. An air rescue helicopter took off 15 minutes later, while naval vessels headed for the sea off Pelion. The wreckage was located around 5.15 p.m. Before yesterday, the air force had lost 42 pilots and airmen in 57 major accidents since 1991.