Crash over the Aegean

A Greek fighter pilot was feared dead yesterday after his F-16 collided with a Turkish air force jet over the Aegean Sea, prompting a flurry of diplomatic exchanges between Athens and Ankara as the two sides attempted to prevent the situation becoming a full-blown crisis. An air and sea search was continuing late last night in an effort to find Captain Costas Iliakis, a 35-year-old father of two. His plane went down after crashing with a Turkish F-16 that he had been shadowing some 21 nautical miles off the southeastern Aegean island of Karpathos. Defense sources said the chances of finding him alive were slim. The two planes collided after two Greek jets had been scrambled from Souda air force base in Crete to meet two Turkish planes – an F-16 and an RF4 photo-reconnaisance plane – that had entered Greek air space without having submitted flight plans. This type of mock dogfight is common over the Aegean as Turkey does not recognize Greece’s right to have its national airspace extend to 10 kilometers. Defense sources said the planes from both sides were flying at 27,000 feet at 12.48 p.m. when a sudden movement by the Turkish pilot led to the two F-16s touching wings and crashing. The Turkish pilot, First Lieutenant Halil Ibrahim Ozdemir, managed to eject in time and was collected by a Panama-flagged ship. Sources said he refused the offer of medical help from Greek vessels and permission was given to a Turkish military helicopter to collect Ozdemir. Military chiefs from both sides and foreign ministers Dora Bakoyannis and Abdullah Gul spoke after the event to ensure that the incident would not lead to an escalation of tensions between the neighboring states. «The two ministers expressed their regret for today’s incident and agreed that it must not affect the two countries’ target of improving their relations,» a statement by the Greek Foreign Ministry said. Gul said that the incident took place in «international air space.» Speaking late last night, Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said that Turkey should continue to pursue «good-neighborly relations» with Greece.

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