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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
'I'm Greek and, yes, I spot planes'
Elliott Kefalas
Elliott Kefalas: "It is seen as a strange hobby here"
When 12 British aviation enthusiasts were arrested in Greece as spies, it was said that their hobby was beyond the comprehension of all Greeks. However, not for Elliott Kefalas of Athens. He is a Greek plane-spotter.

Greek plane-spotters have to hide. It is seen as being such a strange hobby here that people really don't accept it.

The 12 British and 2 Dutch plane-spotters
The accused are back in Greece for their trial
I was arrested in January outside Athens airport, while I was waiting to watch an Olympic 747 land. Some people in the neighbouring houses saw me with my binoculars and called the police. They thought I was a spy or a terrorist.

The police took me to the airport, where I've worked as a dispatcher for an airline for the past nine years so that my colleagues could vouch for me. They know about my hobby.

Working at the airport is my dream job. When I was five, counting planes was my favourite game. At weekends my parents would ask me where I wanted to go and I always said to the airport.

My friends say I'm crazy - would they prefer I was a drunken football fan?

I like my job so much that I'm happy when I have to stay late - I don't want to go home.

My friends say that I'm crazy and stupid and I'm always looking in the sky to see aircraft. Would they prefer that I was a drunken football fan, smashing glasses every night?

When I tried to explain to a policeman who was going to arrest me on another occasion why I was writing down numbers, I asked him: "Why do people collect stamps? They're not sending lots of letters."

Cautious approach

I'm sure that I'm not the only Greek plane-spotter though. There are model airplanes in the shops and lots of magazines about aviation, so someone must be buying them.

Freed plane-spotters in Kalamata
The Britons spent 37 days in jail last year
There is even a magazine all about Greek military aircraft called Ptisi [the Greek word for flight]. It sells more than 10,000 copies a month which shows there is even interest in the type of planes the British aviation enthusiasts got into trouble for spotting.

There are no clubs or official plane-spotting bodies in Greece, like there are in Britain. That is the big difference.

If there were more of us we could demand access to airfields. Even if there were 1,000 of us, the government would have to make things easier for us.

Greece has problems with its neighbours, that's why people worry about spies

But people don't know about the hobby, so if they report me to the police saying that I'm acting suspiciously, it's logical that the police should come to arrest me.

Greece has many problems with its neighbours, that is why people worry about spies. I would note plane numbers or take photographs or listen on the radio, but never would I do all three things in Greece. That would be asking for trouble.

Air show
Crowds at an air show
In all my life I've never been to a Greek air force base, not even on their open days like the one the British plane-spotters attended. I prefer civil aviation but even if I did like military aircraft, I would never photograph the planes.

No-one has ever been able to explain to me exactly why you can't take pictures at the airbases but I wouldn't try.

I've been arrested many times while plane-spotting; often it's because, unknown to me, a special flight is about to land and security has been tightened. But every time I've been arrested, I think the authorities were right to do so.

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