The pilots of the Greek air force have long earned a reputation within NATO circles and in international flying competitions as being exceptional and top-notch, with skills that have often been put on display in real-time when intercepting Turkish fighter jets, as Turkey’s pilots know all too well. This mastery of the skies, however, does not mean that they are infallible.
Such was the fate of Greek air force pilot Giorgos Baltadoros, who would have been celebrating his name day today, April 23rd, had he still been alive. On April 12, the Mirage 2000-5 aircraft that he was flying as part of a two-plane formation crashed into the sea on approach, just nine nautical miles from his base on the island of Skyros. The two Mirage aircraft had previously been mobilized to intercept Turkish fighter jets which, as is a routine occurrence, had violated Greek airspace.
Adding to the tragedy, Baltadoros, who was 34 years old, was married and had two children, while his fatal final flight reportedly occurred on his final day flying out of the Skyros air force base, before his transfer back to his home base, the Tanagra airfield in Central Greece.
Weather conditions on the day of the fatal flight were reportedly poor, with high humidity and very low clouds and mist over the water hampering visibility.
The body of the ill-fated pilot was found the day after the accident, confirming his death, while the “black box” from the Mirage was located two days later, on April 14, at a depth of 800 meters. However, poor weather conditions and high winds in the region prevented efforts to recover the submerged aircraft from commencing until April 20, headed by the Hellenic Center for Marine Research with assistance from the Hellenic Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board.
Questions remain unanswered regarding the airworthiness and total travel time of the Mirage aircraft, which is said to not have been very old — while the cause of the accident still remains unclear. Baltadoros himself was an experienced pilot.
One initial hypothesis regarding what led to the accident posited that Baltadoros suffered from vertigo, leading to spatial disorientation and loss of situational awareness. Another hypothesis is that there was a sudden and unexpected mechanical failure which ultimately caused the accident. Rumors which circulated on social media in the initial days following the accident even hypothesized a Turkish shoot-down of the ill-fated plane, followed by a cover-up.
However, damning new information made public today casts some additional light on the accident. As was reported, the Skyros Island radio beacon was not operational. Had it been operating, the beacon would have helped guide the aircraft to a safe landing despite low visibility conditions.
This, of course, indicates that the likely cause of the accident itself was low visibility, which turned into a tragic mixture with the Skyros radio beacon inoperational.
Notably, the pilot of the second plane in the formation violated the rules, breaking formation with the first plane just prior to the accident. Further information as to why the second pilot broke ranks just moments before the accident have not, however, been publicly reported as of yet.
What is clear, however, is that even if the scenario where Turkey shot down Baltadoros’ plane is untrue, the ill-fated pilot could and should nevertheless be considered a victim of Turkey’s aggressive war games in the Aegean, as Baltadoros and the second pilot in his formation were in the air intercepting Turkish fighter jets violating Greek airspace on the day of the accident.
This is not the first loss of life due to such incidents, which NATO apparently considers completely acceptable and outside of its purview. In 2006, Greek air force pilot Konstantinos Iliakis lost his life when his plane crashed in the Aegean Sea off of the island of Karpathos, while intercepting Turkish jets that had flown into Greek airspace.