ATHENS – The death of a Greek fighter pilot whose jet disappeared off the screen while returning from a mission to ward off Turkish jets who keep violating Greek airspace will be marked by three days of national mourning.
Captain Giorgos Baltadoros, 34, was in one of two Mirages that left the island of Skyros to intercept a pair of Turkish F-16s that violated Greek air space in the area between the eastern Aegean islands of Lesbos and Chios, and died on the return when his jet fell into the sea for reasons not yet known.
When his jet arrived in the area the Turkish jets had already left and Baltadoros sent out a signal that the F-16s were beyond visual range.
His jet and that of another pilot were returning to Skyros were reportedly flying low because of poor visibility from cloudy weather and Saharan dust in the atmosphere that was at particularly high levels, reports said.
An alert was sounded after the pilot of the other Mirage said that he saw Baltadoros’ jet suddenly “dip,” 9 nautical miles northeast of Skyros, Kathimerini reported.
“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, who has been provoking and taunting Greece and whose government continues to send fighter jets into Greek airspace with no rebuke from NATO, to which both belong.
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 of the crash 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 paper said.
The meeting reportedly led to a decision for a memorandum of understanding about NATO activities, and naval support installations, at the Souda base on Crete but no demand for Turkey to stop sending fighter jets into the Aegean over Greek waters.