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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Greece, Turkey defuse crash row
Greek F-16 fighters (file picture)
The planes were F-16 fighter jets, used by both air forces
Greece and Turkey have said a mid-air collision involving two of their fighter jets over the southern Aegean Sea should not affect bilateral ties.

The comments came after the two foreign ministers discussed the incident.

The Turkish military says its pilot survived the crash near Karpathos island but the Greek pilot died. Greece says it considers its pilot missing.

Greece says its planes scrambled to intercept Turkish jets in its airspace, a claim denied by Turkey.

The two foreign ministers expressed their regret for today's incident
Greek foreign ministry

Ankara says the crash was caused by a Greek plane interfering in Turkish manoeuvres in international airspace.

Despite a thaw in recent years, the two neighbours have a long-standing territorial dispute over the Aegean.

Turkey insists Greek airspace extends only 10km (6 miles) offshore, not 16km (10 miles) as Greece maintains.

In the past, the two have come close to armed conflict over the dispute.

'Calmer' response

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and his Greek counterpart Dora Bakoyannis had spoken to each other shortly after the incident, statements by both foreign ministries said.

Turkish pilot
The Turkish pilot survived and was repatriated by helicopter

"In their talks, the two ministers were unanimous on shedding light on the incident and not allowing it to affect bilateral ties," the Turkish statement said.

The Greek statement said that both ministers "expressed regret" over the incident.

Unlike in previous crises between the two countries, the response this time has been also much calmer from the media, the BBC's Richard Galpin in Athens says.

Mock dog fights

The collision occurred at about 27,000 ft (8,000 m), some 21 miles (34 km) southeast of Karpathos.

Greek government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said the planes had gone down after touching wing tips.

They reportedly saw an explosion in the sky.

"It was likely an interception operation," he said.

Interception attempts happen frequently, with the two sides shadowing each other and even staging mock dog fights in their disputed air space, our correspondent says.

He says it was almost inevitable that there would eventually be a collision between planes from the two countries, adding that - in many ways - it is surprising it has not happened before.

Nato has previously warned the two member states that these are dangerous.

Pilot ejected

The collision spotted by passengers on board a plane travelling to Cairo, according to eyewitnesses quoted on Greek television.

The Turkish pilot was rescued after ejecting safely, Turkish officials say. He was later flown home by an army helicopter.

But the officials said the Greek pilot had died in the collision.

This has not been confirmed by the Greek government. However officials in Athens told the BBC they believe the pilot did not eject - and therefore may have died.

A search and rescue operation will continue for 72 hours, they said.


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BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the rescued Turkish pilot arrive at hospital



SEE ALSO:
Turkey urges fresh Cyprus talks
24 Jan 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Greece
08 Mar 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Turkey
05 Apr 06 |  Country profiles


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