Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria died in a weekend helicopter crash

Greece's air force chief of staff was sacked Sunday over delays in launching a rescue operation after a weekend helicopter crash that killed the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, the church's number two. Peter VII, the spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in Africa, died Saturday when the army aircraft carrying him and 16 others plummeted into the Aegean Sea off northern Greece. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said at a news conference he sacked air force chief Panayotis Papanikolaou because of delays in launching a search and rescue operation after the crash, whose cause has not yet been established and which no-one survived. Military officials admitted that a communications breakdown led to a delay in launching the rescue operation. Accompanied by his brother and members of his entourage, Peter VII, a Cypriot, had been travelling from Athens to the monastic enclave of Mount Athos, one of his church's holiest places, when the Chinook helicopter went down, reports France- Presse. AN Australian Bishop whose work among the underprivileged was likened to that of Mother Teresa was among 17 killed in a helicopter crash in Greece. Bishop Nektarios of Madagascar, 48, formerly George Kellis before his Greek Orthodox ordination, was with 16 others in a Greek military Chinook helicopter that crashed into the Aegean Sea about 6pm on Saturday. Among the dead was Patriarch Petros VII of Alexandria, the spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in Africa and one of the most senior figures of the Orthodox Church. Yesterday Biship Nektarios' family were waiting at their Adelaide home for news that his body had been recovered. The helicopter slipped off radar screens about 6pm after the pilot warned controllers he was losing altitude. The crash site was 9km from Halkidiki peninsula, near Mount Athos -- one of the holiest sites in Orthodox Christianity -- where the victims were going for the ordination of another bishop. Bishop Nektarios' family said he would be buried in Madagascar, informs Herald Sun. According to the Telegraph, Petros Papapetrou was born on September 3 1949 at Sichari, Cyprus, a village about 10 miles north of Nicosia. The eldest boy of a large family, he was the grandson of a priest and from an early age had a vocation for the church. At 17, he entered the seminary of the Apostle Barnabas in Nicosia, and in 1969 was ordained deacon. Having spent the next four years in Alexandria, where he was marked out for high office by the then Patriarch, Nicholas VI, he studied theology at Athens University from 1974 until 1978, when he was ordained priest. That year he was also appointed Archimandrite and took charge of the patriarchal offices in Cairo. In 1980, he was sent as VicarGeneral to Johannesburg, one of the see's most important centres, to supervise the running of a new church. Three years later, he was elected Bishop of Babylon, and was consecrated at the monastery of Macheras in Cyprus. Petros had done postgraduate study on missionary work in Dublin, and when he was nominated Patriarch following Parthanios's death in 1996, the expansion of this activity in East Africa became one of his principal aims. The Patriarch also made the restoration of church buildings a priority, notably the monasteries of St Savvas in Alexandria and St George in Cairo, and it was while flying to the centre of Orthodox monasticism, Mount Athos in Greece, that the Greek military helicopter in which he was travelling crashed in the Aegean Sea. Fifteen others also perished, including three of the patriarchate's bishops and Petros's brother.

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