Greece’s ongoing struggle against more than 50 wildfires raging has claimed the lives of two pilots when a firefighting aircraft crashed.
The pilots have been named Commander Christos Moulas, 34, and his co-pilot, 27-year-old Periclis Stefanidis, both of the Greek Hellenic Air Force (HAF).
The disaster occurred in Karystos, in the Platanistos district of the Greek island of Evia. The terrible incident occurred just moments after the plane dropped water on one of the wildfires.
State media carried pictures of the plane flying low and allegedly colliding with a tree with its wing before disappearing into a gorge. As a result, a fireball appeared quickly after the impact.
Nikos Dendias, Greece’s Minister of National Defence, acknowledged the tragic news that both pilots had died in the incident.
In a statement, Mr Dendias said: “The loss of the lives of Air Force officers and firefighting aircraft operators, in the line of duty and while attempting to protect the lives and property of citizens, as well as the environment of our country, is deeply saddening,
“Our thoughts are with their families and colleagues, to whom we extend our most sincere condolences.”
In addition, Mr Dendias ordered a three-day mourning period for the military forces, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis opted to cancel his intended visit to Cyprus on Wednesday in response to the unfortunate event.
Greece’s prime minister said: “We Greeks mourn, today, the tragic death of our pilots Christos Moulas and Pericles Stefanidis in Evia.
“They gave their lives, saving lives, proving how risky their daily firefighting missions are. The state respectfully stands by the families of the two heroes. They are two children, two brothers of all of us.”
The deadly wildfires that are currently tearing through the Greek island of Corfu have been blamed on arsonists, as thousands of locals and tourists have been forced to flee the fire ravaged island.
Corfu mayor Yorgos Mahimaris revealed on Monday (July 24) that arsonists was likely responsible for starting the fires, which have forced a huge number of people to evacuate.
Mr Mahimaris came to this conclusion after visiting three areas on Mount Pantokratoras where the fires started. He told Sky News: “There’s a human hand in this.”
Theofanis Skembris, deputy mayor of North Corfu, supported this viewpoint, noting that four fires started “simultaneously”.
Elsewhere on the island, other residents were quick to point to human involvement in the fires.
Vasilis Sofitsis, the owner of a pool and garden company on the island, also highlighted that the fires are believed to have been deliberately started by arsonists.
According to him, the numerous fire fronts scattered across various locations cannot be attributed to mere accidents; instead, he suggests that deliberate actions are behind the widespread fires.