RHODES, Greece: Two Greek air force pilots have died after their water-bombing plane crashed while battling a forest fire on the island of Evia.
The air force said in a statement that their plane, a Canadair CL-215, crashed at 2:52pm (11:52 GMT) during a firefighting operation in Platanistos on Tuesday.
A search and rescue operation determined that the plane’s captain, aged 34, and co-pilot, 27, were both dead.
“A three-day mourning period is declared in the Armed Forces for the loss of life, in the line of duty, of the Air Force officers and pilots of the firefighting aircraft CL-215, which was operating in Evia,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
State broadcaster ERT shared footage on social media of the plane dropping water over a fire. It is then seen crashing into a hillside and bursting into flames.
The accident took place as Greece battled wildfires on three major fronts, including the tourist islands of Rhodes and Corfu, and other blazes raged amid a heatwave across much of the Mediterranean region, killing dozens of people in Algeria.
Another blaze caused the temporary closure of Palermo airport on the southern Italian island of Sicily. Further north, the weather broke and an intense overnight storm tore off roofs and brought down trees in cities including Milan, killing two women in that part of the country.
Scientists from the World Weather Attribution group said on Tuesday the continuing heatwaves would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change.
Thousands of hectares burned
A third successive heat wave in Greece pushed temperatures back above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) across parts of the country Tuesday amid a string of evacuations from fires that have raged out of control for days, whipped on by strong winds.
WWF Greece, an environmental NGO, said 35,000 hectares (86,500 acres) of forest and other land had been scorched by fire in the country just in the past week.
A Greek fire service spokesman said the worst blazes on Tuesday were on the southeastern island of Rhodes and the northwestern island of Corfu – both which are popular tourist destinations.
“On the other fronts, we have to deal with many cases of the fire flaring up again,” Ioannis Artopios said.
Four villages on Rhodes were ordered evacuated on Tuesday as a fire burning for eight days continued to move inland, torching mountainous forest areas, including a part of a nature reserve.
Another five evacuations were ordered on Corfu, and one overnight on Evia.
Authorities said that more than 20,000 people have been involved in successive evacuations on Rhodes, mostly tourists over the weekend when fires swept through two coastal areas.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared on Tuesday that the country is “at war” with the wildfires.
“For the next few weeks, we must be on constant alert. We are at war,” the prime minister told parliament.
Three days before the plane crash, Mitsotakis acknowledged that the aged Canadair CL-215 water bombers used by Greece – a model first produced in the mid-1960s – were “old, difficult [to fly] and prone to malfunction.”
The prime minister, who was re-elected in June for a second term, had pledged to bring in new models available in 2026.