A Greek air force plane crashed while trying to put out a wildfire in southern Greece on Tuesday, killing the two pilots, as authorities battle fires that have raged for days across the country amid returning scorching temperatures.
Video from public broadcaster ERT shows the CL-215 plane dropping its cargo of water over the island of Evia before the tip of its wing apparently snagged on a tree branch. Moments later, he disappears into a ravine from which a fireball shoots out.
The Air Force said the pilots, aged 34 and 27, both died in the crash. The aircraft had no ejection system.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has canceled a planned visit to Cyprus for Wednesday, and the Greek armed forces have declared three days of mourning.
“They offered their lives to save lives,” Mr. Mitsotakis said of the pilots. They have proven how dangerous their daily firefighting missions are… In their memory, we continue the war against the destructive forces of nature. »
The fires hit another country around the Mediterranean particularly exposed to global warming, Algeria. At least 34 people died in fires that took the north and east of this country on Sunday.
Other disasters also affected Tunisia, Sicily… In France, Météo-France placed Monday at the highest level of vigilance a department in the South-East, Bouches-du-Rhône, estimating “very high” the risk of fires “compared to summer standards”.
As images of charred forests and vegetation shocked all of Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned that fighting the fires would remain “difficult”.
“We are living the repercussions of the climate crisis”, he judged during a Council of Ministers devoted to these fires. “We have a difficult summer ahead of us,” he added as a new wave of strong heat swept across the country on Tuesday.
In Athens, which has been suffocating for more than a week, the thermometer read 38°C in the middle of the day with temperatures felt at 41°C. In the center of the country, temperatures of a maximum of 44 ° C are expected, according to the national weather forecast EMY.
The country, though accustomed to summer heat waves, is experiencing one of the longest heat waves in recent years, according to EMY experts.
The very high temperatures combined with strong winds sometimes reaching 60 km / hour in the Aegean Sea have caused major fires for eight days, which however have not caused any casualties at this stage.
According to estimates by the Greek section of the NGO WWF, 35,000 hectares of forest and vegetation have been destroyed so far in this eastern Mediterranean country.
The fires are particularly devastating on very touristy islands like Rhodes, off the Turkish coast and, at the other end of the country, Corfu, in the Ionian Sea, while the tourist season is in full swing.
The island of Euboea is also affected in its southern part. This is where the firefighters’ water bomber plane crashed on this large island near Athens, according to the Air Force.
A fourth fire front worries firefighters near Aigio, in the western Peloponnese.
According to the first information from the authorities, the two pilots, who belong to the Air Force, are missing.
The aircraft participated with at least three other planes and a hundred firefighters in the fight against the flames in the south of this island already devastated two years ago in its northern part by devastating fires.
In Rhodes, where an unprecedented evacuation operation of some 30,000 tourists and locals took place last weekend, more than 266 firefighters are still trying to contain the ongoing blaze for the eighth day, according to firefighters.
On Tuesday the Prime Minister, for his part, mentioned the number of 20,000 evacuations, including tourists, in Rhodes during the weekend.
In the village of Vati, in the south-east of Rhodes, “it is tragic what is happening”, testifies to AFP Vassilis Kalabodakis, president of the town overflown by two Canadair and a helicopter.
“The village has been ordered to evacuate but we cannot abandon it,” he assures us, under a rain of ashes. “We are leading the fight to protect our place”.
Others gave vent to their anger, feeling abandoned by the Greek state.
There is nothing worse than what we have just experienced, ”asserts Christos Kitsos, met by AFP. The islander, who works in a luxury hotel on the island, lets his anger explode. “The authorities have failed. Mayor, governor, government. All ! “, he accuses.
“There is a total lack of organization, no information is given. It’s high season, there are 200,000 tourists on the island and we managed on our own. We were abandoned. Shame ! “, gets carried away this 34-year-old man.
In the north of the island, volunteers bring aid to foreign tourists evacuated on Saturday, who are now camping in a school.
“I can’t believe they are so kind, they give so much […]. I am very moved, ”said Christine Moody, a 69-year-old Briton, for the first time on vacation in Greece.
At the other end of the country, in northern Corfu, where around 2,500 people had to leave their homes as a preventive measure overnight from Sunday to Monday, 62 firefighters, a helicopter and two water bombers are fighting the fire, according to firefighters.