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Death count rises to 11 in military jet crash at base

Alan Clendenning and Daniel Ochoa de Olza
Associated Press

Albacete, Spain — The death toll from the crash of a Greek F-16 fighter jet at a Spanish military base during an elite NATO pilot training program rose to 11 Tuesday after a French airman who suffered serious burns died, Spain’s Defense Ministry said.

The death came as Spanish investigators probed what caused the jet to lose thrust during takeoff Monday and crash into five parked planes at the Los Llanos air base in southeastern Spain, triggering a series of explosions and a raging fire.

Two pilots aboard the Greek F-16 were killed along with eight French air force members on the ground and the French airman who died Tuesday, the ministry said in a statement.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promised his French and Greek counterparts “all the help my government can give in clarifying the facts” of what went wrong.

“Spain and Spaniards always stand with our allies and their pain is ours,” Rajoy said.

By Tuesday afternoon authorities had not retrieved the 10 bodies at the scene because workers were still cleaning up highly toxic fuel at the crash site, said Capt. Jose Guerrera, an air force spokesman.

Twenty French and Italian citizens were injured and four remained hospitalized in Madrid undergoing treatment for severe burns, the ministry said. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was traveling to Madrid and the base Tuesday.

The Greek F-16 pilots and other military personnel from seven NATO countries were taking part in an annual one-month training exercise called the Tactical Leadership Program.

Competition is fierce among experienced pilots for the program aimed at advancing their tactical ability so they can command large numbers of planes in the air.

The NATO countries who sent personnel to this year’s program were Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and the United States.