Spotting in Greece - A Warning

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Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by Martijn. »

I know this is not movements or anything, but I just wanted to share my story.

Last year august I got stationed in Greece for a few months. I lived 15 minutes from both Megara (LGMG) and Elefsis (LGEL). From my house I saw both the C130s and the Chinooks. Eager to get the new flying P-3s and the last of the C-130Bs I decided to go to Elefsina to get some numbers.

Everybody knows the story of the Dutch spotters, more or less 20 years ago I think, that were arrested and thrown in jail. From what I heard they were photographing or reading numbers next to the fence, in the direction of the base. I figured that keeping low-profile, away from the base, photography only in the air, would be fine. Worst case I have to delete some pictures and get send away, I thought.

I chose my spot so that I had a clear spot for pictures for planes on final, but not view on the base, and thus the base had no view on me. The spot was quiet, it was at the edge of a neighbourhood, with at least 5/600m from the base fence with trees and a river in between.

Day 1 went fine, I was finetuning my tactics and location, which eventually ended me up on the above described position. Had a Alenia and a few choppers
Day 2 I got my first C-130, P-3 and ERJ145AEW numbers.

The arrest
On the third day, the weather was great, I now had an idea of the flying scedules and where to stand. Everything was looking good when just after my arrival (it was around 3 in the afternoon) I photographed the ERJ145AEW in beautiful sunlight. On the previous days I found out that the P-3 would come back more or less at the same time, so I decided to stay a little longer. I was now here for at most 45 minutes.

Suddenly 2 police motorbikes with 4 officers stopped next to me. Bulletproof vests, guns, on guys as wide as they are tall. Before they asked me anything I gave them my passport and explained what I was doing, and that I was taking pictures only of the planes in the air, no infrastructure, etc, and normally this is enough to please them. In this case, my camera got passed around the 4 officers while one of them was searching my car. Luckily one of them spoke a little english and he explained me that an arrest vehicle was on its way. Since I was cooperating I did not need handcuffs but I had to empty all my pockets and give my car key to the officer. I was loaded into the back of an SUV and off we went.

The police station
If you have ever seen Locked Up Abroad, you might have an idea of how a greek police station would look. Pregnant gypsy women smoking in the waiting room while guys with facial tattoos try to grab you from behind the bars as you walk by the holding cells. I only spent there a few minutes, as I think they were there to figure out where to take me. I had no information of why I was taken, where I was going or what was expected of me. I was transferred to another vehicle and off we went again, this time to the highway.

The ride went with 90kmh while the guy driving, with a cigarette in one hand and his phone in the other was showing his college videos of cats doing dumb stuff. We arrived at a double-fenced unmarked office building. There was 1 guard armed with a 6-shot revolver. Nobody wore uniforms, but all were armed. I was lead up some stairs and in to a room with 2 guys.

Federal Secret Service Police
In came 1 guy, out another. Yelling at each other in greek, pointing at me while yelling at each other, one big chaos. I had to unlock my phone for one guy and that was all that was asked for the first hour. On the table was a messy pile of papers next to a gun in a holster, and an ashtray with a burning cigarette.

A fat guy came in and he seemed rather nice. He spoke little english and so it was his task to find out when and where I took all my pictures. There were still pictures on my camera from other countries so this complicated everything quite a bit. Next up was my phone. He went through my pictures and I had to tell him where what who when, even the folder 'Whatsapp Images'. Who sent this? Who is he? Where do you know him from? And all conversations on whatsapp, my call history, emails, everything. When his interogations went silent for a minute I asked where I was, and why they took me. I was with the Secret Service Police and was arrested on the suspicion of espionage, and the people I have been talking to were of the terrorism prevention unit. At this moment I knew this was going to take a while.

The interogation
Finally a hurried man came in to the room. Tall, bald, white blouse, well shaved (in contradiction to the other officers). He took out a pen and paper, and started asking me simple questions. Who I was, what I do for a living, how long have you been in Greece, where do you stay, etc.. He was very open with me and explained that he had to ask me some questions and why. First I had to start telling my life story, where I was born, where I went to school, every job I ever had, every adress I ever stayed at, my parents, women, hobbies, my entire carreer and all adresses, hotels, countries etc that I ever visited. If I had ever been to Turkey, if I had connections in Russia or in Libya. Due to my line of work I get in contact with a lot of nationalities, and so if I still have contact with previous connections, when you stayed in this country what nationalities did you meet and work with, and what about when you stayed in that country?

This entire ordeal to about 8 hours. In the end he actually believed me, I showed him and explained I was founder of, he looked it up, saw the Greek orbats en airfield guides, read the message boards and it all started to make a bit more sense to him. At that moment I was allowed to get up out of my chair, was offered some water and a visit to the toilet (after 8 hours!!).

Telephone instructions
The bald man in the white blouse left and I was left there waiting for another hour. The fat guy from before came in and he actually started making friendly conversation for me to kill the time. He barely spoke english but he was trying to be nice. He told me they just had to finish some bureaucratic business since the protocol they had started had to be finished. I asked him if I was going to jail. He said I should, and they should send me to jail, and they planned to send me to jail, but for some reason this was not happening. He said somebody would explain later.

About half an hour later somebody came in with a phone and some papers. On the phone was a translator, and she explained me that they were gonna let me go, but keep my camera for further investigation. The papers that were given to me (all in greek writing), she explained were for me to sign, that I confirmed the items they were keeping, that I confirm they are mine and that they are now in possesion of it. The process would take a few months, but in case nothing illegal was found (no infrastucture), I would be able to get my camera back. I signed it and I recieved a post-it, on which the officer wrote an adress and a phone number. I got back my phone, my wallet, my passport and I could leave. It had become dark, it was past midnight and I had no idea where I was. My car was brought to the office, and was parked in front of the door. I drove home.

My company contact and my airforce friend
The big advantage that I had was that I worked for a greek company at this time, and my contact could provide me with updates from the federal police and the district attorney. I gave my company contact the phone number that was on the post-it she and she would let me know when she heard something. 6 months went by before I first got news.

The whole incident took place early september. It was about november or december before a friend came up to me, he said 'You know this guy right?' 'Yeah, he's great!' 'He told me he was the one who saved your ass from going to prison!'. The next week I visited him and asked him about it. The guy is in the Greek AF for more than 2 decades already, and holds a respectable position at the Elefsina AB. He told me he was on duty that day in September, when he recieved a call that they arrested some Dutch guy near the airbase. When he heard it was me, he told the guys at the secret service to do whatever they want, but to let me go in the end. I was incredibly lucky with this.

District Attorney
Around februari I recieved an appointment from the Civil Court of Athens. I went there the day of my appointment straight at 9 when they opened, but off course they were on strike until 11. Court garden is beautiful, but inside the building piles and piles of paperwork, so messy that it was hard to walk through some of the rooms. The once white walls are yellow, there is a noisy old airco unit on the wall, broken window shades and an ashtray on every desk. Eventually I met the woman who was doing the paperwork for my case. I had to go down a floor, to the left, pay something, get a stamp, go to the second floor, to whatever office, deliver the paper with the stamp, get another form, fill it, stamp it on -1, come back to the 1st, go to the next office, get another paper, etc etc, and this for another whole day. In the end I was led to the district attorney, she signed some papers, and I was good to go.

I travelled to the office where I was taken after my arrest and when given the documents I recieved from the court, they gave me back my camera with the pictures still on it. Both my lenses recieved a sticker with greek letters and an evidence number which I will leave on as a souvenir. Everything was nicely packed, all my memory cards were put in an airtight bag. Just the lenscap of my 150-500 was lost, but I was definetly not going to make a problem.

The moral of the story
Don't go spotting in Greece. I've been to quite some countries and met quite some policemen, but the night in the station and the long bureaucratic process afterwards was just a terrible experience. They took everything on the 4th of September and I recieved it only late february.

Also remember, my friend in the airforce saved my ass. I had contacts that spoke greek through my company. I was living in Greece during all this time. If this happens to you, you WILL go to jail and you will probably NEVER see you camera or binoculars ever again. I'm sorry for the long story, but I hope it comes of use and maybe you even found it interesting. Let this be a lesson for all of us!

For those interested in the pictures, they can be found here:
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by Dede »

Hello to everyone !

34 years ago me and two friends had a worse experience in Greece and were not so lucky, ended up in prison for 7 weeks and got fined for 18 months in total. After paying the fine of 5000 German Deutsch Marks we were released. I totally agree ! Not much has changed til now. You can even get into prison without taking photographs by only collecting serial numbers ! But even nowadays You still have many 'spotters' laughing by hearing from such experiences and saying, that would never happen to them ! Still, anything can happen, even if You are careful. If You are the wrong person at the wrong time in a foreign country, that's it. Only trying to be careful doesn't save You from being arrested.

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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by stipjes »

Tanks for sharing the story. I read it all. Very interesting, I thought things would have changed a little by now but it seems not.

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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by Stratofreighter »

Thank you for posting this story.

Not that much has changed since 2001, it seems... :roll:

Well, at least some Greek Air Force employees now know about the hobby called "aircraft spotting".

Police and secret service still do not, apparently... :roll:

At least they did not put you in a prison cell for weeks on end... :shock:
:roll: :loud: :|
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by michel N »

Last year during Iniochos we were spotting near Andravida, also keeping low profile. After a while a farmer saw our car, went to the police, and they came back for us. When we saw them coming, I put my camerabag in the bushes, and we talked to the police. We had to follow them to the local police office. After talking with them for maybe 20 minutes or so, we were free to go. They warned us that the police is not the problem. The local population is. They don’t know the hobby, and they think they have found some spies.
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by GerritsFinest »

Martijn thanks for posting this very interesting story! I can imagine you are not willing to let it happen to you or someone else again! Spotting is more common around the word you would think, but all of us know the dangerous countries and spots… but just there the most interesting things are to be seen, so we take calculated risks anyhow.
I experienced exactly the same, copy and paste, but the year and location were different: March 3 1973 at Liege Bierset! In those early spotting days every airbase in Europe was dangerous, except for the UK maybe.’ Spotters behind bars’ would be a nice title for a book, in which all these spotters stories could be published… collect them and it would be a best seller!
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by BennoT6 »

Beauvechain April 1984 :evil:
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by SquAdmin »

Fascinating story, thanks for sharing. With things heating up between Greece and Turkey, I can imagine security forces and locals will be even more strict at the moment.

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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by mungo74 »

Have you ever thought about to contact your embassy?
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by LHAspotter »

Thanks for sharing this interesting and shocking report.

For the sake of completeness, I'd just like to mention that it's really not like that on many greek islands where plane spotting has become a tourist attraction like at Corfu, Skiathos or Rhodes (RHO with almost daily military movements).
I've been to many greek islands in the past 15 years, in numerous ways things work very differently there compared to the mainland.
Last edited by LHAspotter on 13 Mar 2020, 20:37, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by Fishbed_9307 »

Thanks for posting! It think you aren't really safe at a lot of places while conducting this hobby. If you bump into the wrong guy and they start some kind of procedure or protocol you are f*cked.

I think last year there also was a story about a guy who was arrested near Souda and went through the same =censored=.

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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by Bennie »

Got picked up by authorities at Elefsis and Tanagra in 1985. They were mostly friendly then.
Returned in 2007 for several base visits, arranged with the kind help of the Dutch embassy. No problems experienced then.
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by nellis6 »

LHAspotter wrote:Thanks for sharing this interesting and shocking report.

For the sake of completeness, I'd just like to mention that it's really not like that on many greek islands where plane spotting has become a tourist attraction like at Corfu, Skiathos or Rhodes (RHO with almost daily military movements).
I've been to many greek islands in the past 15 years, in numerous ways things work very differently there compared to the mainland.
But they are not military bases. They may have military movements, but a completely different scenario. I have visited almost all Greek bases and am well known to the HAF HQ and Greek/British Embassies there. But I would never photograph off base. Discussions I have had with HAF personnel tell me it is not wise - at your own risk!
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by frank kramer »

In fact, the 'safest' way to catch HAF planes at their military bases as a spotter is still to visit them during the November Open Days. But even then, it's wise to stick to the rules laid out locally. They may differ strongly from base to base, or from day to day, or even from one HAF officer to another, but they keep you out of trouble - generally speaking :roll:
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Re: Spotting in Greece - A Warning

Post by patrick dirksen »

Thanks for sharing your story. It indeed illustrates that although people tend to think spotting is ok nowadays in Gr**ce, there is still a serious risk. And although you will be ok 99 times out of a 100, there can be very serious troubles.
From what I heard they were photographing or reading numbers next to the fence, in the direction of the base.
No, we were not, we were arrested on base during the November open days. Indeed because some of us had used binoculars, that part is correct.

Stay safe (both health and spotting wise)!

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