updated 5/23/2006 11:21:34 AM ET 2006-05-23T15:21:34

Warplanes from Greece and Turkey collided over the Aegean Sea island of Karpathos as they shadowed each other Tuesday, and officials said the Turkish pilot was rescued unhurt and a search was launched for the Greek pilot.

Fighter planes from the two NATO allies frequently intercept each other over the Aegean, mostly in areas of disputed airspace.

The Turkish military identified both planes as F-16 fighter jets and said the Turkish pilot, 1st Lt. Halil Ibrahim Ozdemir, was rescued by a merchant ship. Greek authorities said a search was under way for the pilot of the Greek plane.

Authorities in Greece initially said there were two Turks aboard the Turkish plane, but later said only one was aboard. The government in Ankara only made reference to Ozdemir.

“It appears the incident occurred while the Greek plane was intercepting the Turkish jet,” Greek government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said.

Airspace long disputed
Greece says its national airspace extends to 10 miles, but Turkey recognizes only six miles — the same distance as territorial waters. Long-standing disputes over airspace and territorial rights in the Aegean have nearly led to three wars between them since 1974.

Relations between Greece and Turkey have been steadily deteriorating in recent months, despite Athens’ promotion of Turkey’s candidacy to join the European Union and Premier Costas Caramanalis’ personal friendship with Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said his country’s chief of staff was in contact with his Greek counterpart over the incident.

“An F-16 belonging to the Turkish air forces crashed in the air with an F-16 belonging to the Greek air forces and both planes fell,” the Turkish military said, adding that the incident was under investigation.

The Greek Defense Ministry said the planes crashed into the sea 12½ miles south of Karpathos.

The Greek jet was based at Souda Air Force base on the island of Crete.

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