25 May, 2006
The search for the Greek Airforce pilot that went down after his F-16 jet collided with a Turkish fighter plane above the Aegean is still continuing, alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros announced on Wednesday during the regular press briefing.
"Our hearts and our thoughts are with the Greek pilot who has been missing since yesterday afternoon. We hope and pray that the search that continues today will have the happy outcome we desire," he told reporters.
He said that the precise causes of the collision were being investigation but stressed that there had been a "clear infringement of the Athens FIR".
He stressed, meanwhile, that the government's actions in response to the incident on Tuesday - on an operational, diplomatic and political level - had dealt with a dangerous situation in a way that was responsible, determined, level-headed and efficient.
"Greek sovereign rights and duties were fully secured. A steadfast goal on our side is the progress of Greek-Turkish relations toward a better future, with peace and stability, and of course with the simultaneous protection of Greek interests," he added.
Antonaros expressed conviction, meanwhile, that Ankara, first of all, would take advantage of the "European chapter that opened for Turkey on October 3".
"This means that it must abandon behaviors that are incompatible with good-neighborly relations. On our side, as a standing practice, we take all the required actions," he said.
Antonaros referred reporters to an announcement issued by the Greek Armed Forces General Staff regarding the mission of the Turkish formation that the Greek pilot had been sent to intercept and a reported Turkish request to pick up the Turkish pilot. He was unable to confirm reports that the Turkish pilot who was rescued had pulled a gun on a Greek rescue team.
On a political level, the spokesman said there was no change to an agreement made by Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their latest meeting to ensure "calm waters" in the Aegean over the summer.
He also pointed to an agreement between Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and her Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul during talks over the phone on Tuesday that the incident should not affect the two countries' efforts to improve bilateral relations.
In response to other questions, the spokesman said he had not been informed of any decision by Bakoyannis to alter her plans to visit Istanbul on June 10.
Antonaros said that Bakoyannis, who at the time of the incident had been in Finland for talks with the Finnish government, which is due to take over the next EU presidency, had also fully briefed Helsinki on the incident, underlining the immediate response of Greek search and rescue teams, by air and sea.
He emphasized, meanwhile, that a Greek Super Puma rescue helicopter had arrived on the scene fully half an hour sooner than the equivalent Turkish rescuers. He denied reports, however, that dozens of fighter aircraft from both the Greek and Turkish sides had been sent up, saying that this was not the information he had received.
Karamanlis and Erdogan had not spoken on the phone after Tuesday's collision, he added.
Regarding the response of the Greek defense ministry, Antonaros said that the Greek Armed Forces and the ministry's leadership "are doing their job thoroughly and with full competency". He said that President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias and the leaders of the political parties were briefed on the events by Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis, as soon as he had a complete picture of what happened.
The helmet of missing Greek pilot Constantine Iliakis, whose fighter plane was involved in a collision with a Turkish warplane earlier in the day, as well as the survival kit bearing Greek markings were found late on Tuesday night. Rescue crews are continuing their efforts to locate the missing pilot, according to the National Defense General Staff.
It was also revealed that the National Defense General Staff chiefs of the two countries had telephone conversations concerning both the event and the issue of the handing over of the Turkish pilot to the Turkish authorities.
The will of both sides to prevent possible tension in the Aegean appeared in these conversations, a will which had been expressed by the political leaderships of the two countries.
Iliakis is married and has two young children.
Source: Athens News Agency