June 24, 2024

Tragic ‘last words’ of hero pilots who died in plane crash fighting Greek wildfires

The tragic last words of two heroic pilots who died fighting wildfires in Greece have been revealed, as blazes continue to rage across Europe.

Commander Christos Moulas, 34, and co-pilot Pericles Stefanidis, 27, were killed just before 3pm on Tuesday when their plane, which had been dropping water, crashed near the town of Karystos on the island of Evia near Athens.

A firefighter on the ground is believed to be the last person to speak with the pair, telling Greek broadcaster OPEN: “I still can’t believe that three minutes ago I was talking to them and after exactly 10 minutes I learned that the plane had crashed.

Commander Christos Moulas, 34, and copilot Pericles Stefanidis, 27, were killed when their plane, which had been dropping water, crashed

(Hellenic Air Force)

“We had contact with them,” he continued. “They did not report any problems with the aircraft. They told us, ‘We are ready to try. We go for a last supply and we leave.’

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“A few minutes after we spoke, we learned over the radio that the aircraft had crashed,” he added.

Footage showed the bright yellow CL-215 aircraft releasing its load of water before its wingtip apparently snagged on a tree branch. Moments later it disappeared into a deep fold in the ground from which a fireball erupted.

The pilots, who were both said to be passionate about flying, died at the scene, with investigations into the tragedy ongoing, according to the Greek Fire Brigade.

Debris from the two pilots’ Canadair CL-215 firefighting aircraft


Greek City Times said Commander Moulas’ wife is believed to be three months pregnant with their first child.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said of the tragedy on Tuesday: “Today, we Greeks mourn the tragic loss of our pilots Christos Moulas and Pericles Stefanidis in Evia.

“They gave their lives saving lives, proving how risky their daily firefighting missions are,” he continued. “The state respectfully stands by the families of the two heroes. They are two children, two brothers of all of us.”

A three-day period of mourning in the Armed Forces was announced by the defence ministry to honour the pair.

Flames burn a tree in Vati village, on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes


Mr Mitsotakis continued: “Words are poor to describe the national mourning for their loss… So, we grit our teeth and turn our silence into strength. In their memory, we continue the war against the destructive forces of nature.”

The prime minister has warned of tough days ahead as Greece is bracing for at least another 48 hours of scorching wildfires and soaring temperatures, until conditions possibly improve after Thursday.

He told ministers: “All of us are standing guard. In the face of what the entire planet is facing, especially the Mediterranean which is a climate change hot-spot, there is no magical defence mechanism.”

Locals try to extinguish a wildfire burning in Gennadi village, on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes


The Greek Fire Brigade has already been battling more than 500 fires for almost two weeks, while the high temperatures of the recent new heatwave are set to peak throughout Europe on Wednesday, exceeding 44C in some areas of Greece.

A blaze in Rhodes prompted “the biggest evacuation in Greek history”, with over 20,000 people forced to flee homes and hotels over the weekend, while around 2,500 people have already been evacuated from Corfu, which has been enduring dozens of blazes.

Croatia, Portugal, Turkey, Italy and France are among the other European countries that have been battling wildfires in recent days, while the extreme weather conditions on the continent are being mirrored globally, from the US to Asia and Africa.

Flames and smoke rise as a wildfire burns near the village of Gennadi, on the island of Rhodes


Italy suffered a twin pounding from the elements when severe storms battered the north, killing a woman and a 16-year-old girl scout, while southern regions sweltered. In the south, a bedridden 98-year-old man died when fire swept through his home.

The charred bodies of a couple in their 70s were found in their burnt-out home on the outskirts of Palermo, the regional capital of Sicily, according to Italian media reports. Another woman in her late 80s died in the Palermo province after an ambulance was unable to reach her home due to fires in the area.

In north Africa, Algeria was fighting to contain devastating forest fires along its Mediterranean coast in a blaze, which has already killed at least 34 people.

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