Plane Fighting Greek Wildfire Crashes

Both pilots were killed in island crash
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 25, 2023 7:48 PM CDT
Plane Fighting Greek Wildfire Crashes
A Canadair aircraft drops water over a wildfire in Vati village, on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes, southeastern Greece, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023.   (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

A Greek air force water-dropping plane crashed while diving into a wildfire in southern Greece on Tuesday, killing both pilots, as authorities battled blazes that have been raging for days across the country amid a return of heat wave temperatures. Summer wildfires blamed on climate change have also struck other Mediterranean countries, leaving at least 34 people dead in Algeria and two people dead in southern Italy Tuesday. A state ERT TV video showed the bright yellow CL-215 aircraft releasing its load of water on the island of Evia before its wingtip apparently snagged in a tree branch, the AP reports. Moments later, it disappeared into a deep fold in the ground from which a fireball erupted.

The air force said the pilots, aged 34 and 27, both died in the crash. The plane had no ejection system. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis cancelled a planned visit to Cyprus for Wednesday, and Greece's armed forces declared three days of mourning. "They offered their lives to save lives," Mitsotakis said of the pilots. "They proved how hazardous their daily missions in extinguishing fires are ... In their memory, we continue the war against the destructive forces of nature." A third successive heat wave in Greece pushed temperatures back above 40 degrees Celsius across parts of the country Tuesday amid a string of evacuations from fires that have raged out of control for days, whipped on by strong winds

A Greek fire service spokesman said the worst blazes on Tuesday were on the southeastern island of Rhodes and the northwestern island of Corfu—both which are popular tourist destinations. Four villages on Rhodes were ordered evacuated on Tuesday as a fire burning for eight days continued to move inland, torching mountainous forest areas, including a part of a nature reserve. Authorities said that more than 20,000 people have been involved in successive evacuations on the island, mostly tourists over the weekend when fires swept through two coastal areas in the southeast of Rhodes.

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Countries that have sent help to Greece include Italy, which is dealing with its own fires and extreme weather at home.On the island of Sicily, two elderly people were found dead Tuesday in a home burnt by a wildfire that temporarily shut down Palermo's international airport, according to Italian news reports. They were not immediately identified. Regional officials say 55 fires are active on Sicily. And in Puglia, further north, some 2,000 tourists were evacuated from three hotels in Vieste as flames driven by winds got perilously close. (More Greece stories.)

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