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Pilot rescued as Greek, Turkish planes collide

The exact circumstances of the crash were not clear, with conflicting reports on both sides of the Aegean.

india Updated: May 24, 2006 00:14 IST

After years of conducting "mock dogfights" over the Aegean Sea, Turkish and Greek warplanes collided over the island of Karpathos after trailing each other in military manoeuvres, reports said on Tuesday.

Turkish broadcaster NTV said the Turkish pilot managed to use his ejector seat in time and was rescued by a vessel approximately 100 km off the Turkish coast, while there was no immediate information on the Greek pilot.

The exact circumstances of the crash were not clear, with conflicting reports on both sides of the Aegean.

The Greek military said the collision, involving Greek and Turkish F-16 warplanes, occurred during "interception manoeuvres" above the Greek island of Karpathos.

Meanwhile, the Turkish military claimed the crash was caused by a Greek jet interfering in Turkish military manoeuvres in international airspace.

A search and rescue operation was immediately undertaken with a number of Super Puma helicopters and navy frigates scanning the sea for signs of the pilots.

In Ankara, the Turkish General Staff confirmed in a written statement that the collision had taken place at 12:48 pm (0948 GMT) and that the Turkish plane involved was an F-16. The statement said the pilot, Halil Ibrahim Ozdemir, was rescued by a Turkish ship.

Reports said that the pilot had refused to board a Greek Super Puma rescue helicopter and insisted instead on boarding the Turkish ship.

The plane was on a routine flight after taking off from Dalaman airport on the Mediterranean coast, the statement said.

Karpathos Mayor Michalis Ioannidis told Greek state television NET that several islanders had heard an explosion, but did not witness the crash.

Greek and Turkish military chiefs and foreign ministers were in contact with each other over the incident in an effort to prevent the incident from escalating.

"The two foreign ministers expressed their regret for Tuesday's incident and agreed that this should not affect the two countries' efforts to improve their relations," the foreign ministry statement said.

NATO members Greece and Turkey regularly criticise each other for carrying out mock dogfights between air force fighter jets over the Aegean Sea.

Greece's defence ministry has said that military jets routinely intercept a number of Turkish jets that invade the country's airspace on a daily basis.

Turkey regularly denies the claims, saying they only fly in international airspace.

Athens claims that a 10-mile zone around its coast also extends to its airspace while Turkey only recognises a six-mile zone.

The two countries have come close to war three times in the past 30 years, most recently in 1996 over a rocky island in the Aegean.

Despite improved relations in recent years with Greece supporting Turkey's cause to join the European Union, tensions remain over territorial disputes involving the Greek islands located off the Turkish western coast and the issue of the division of Cyprus.