A Greek air force fighter pilot has died after their jet crashed in the eastern Aegean Sea amid rising tensions and near-daily mock dogfights in airspace disputed with Turkey, Greek defence ministry officials have said.
Greek navy ships and army helicopters were dispatched to search for the missing pilot, whose death was later announced by the country’s defence minister.
“A Greek pilot joins the pantheon of heroes. He fell in the defence of our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Panos Kammenos said in a tweet.
Officials from the Greek defence ministry told the state broadcaster that a Mirage 2000-5 jet crashed north of the island of Skyros.
They did not mention a possible cause, but patrols have intensified in recent weeks along the disputed boundary over the Greek islands, with both Turkey and Greece flying sorties in the area.
Though generally unarmed, their close engagements have led to fears of a potentially inflammatory accident.
Greek media reported a pair of Mirages were scrambled to intercept Turkish jets in the Aegean earlier on Thursday.
Turkey’s military denied any involvement in Thursday’s crash, according to the Haberturk newspaper, saying there were no Turkish planes in the area at the time.
The crashed Mirage was one of two sent to intercept Turkish planes in the area, according to Ekathimerini.com, which cited defence sources as saying no hostile action was involved in the crash.