Israel fighter jets escort US airliner

Thursday, April 12, 2007 |  by Staff Writer
Four fighter jets, two F-16s and two F-15s, scrambled to intercept a Continental flight when it failed to make contact with Air Traffic Control at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

When the Continental flight reached a distance of about 68 kilometers from Israel, which is a five-minute flight to Tel Aviv, the fighter jets were dispatched by the Israel Air Force to confirm that the plane had not been taken over by terrorists. Following anti-terror procedures, the Israeli jets guided the plane back over the Mediterranean Sea until full communications were restored.

An Israel Air Force official said the prime minister and defense minister were also informed in real time because of the sensitivity of the matter. “From the moment that we lost contact with (the jet) we treated the incident as a possible terror act. When the fighter jets approached the plane, they guided it west. It contacted us and that's how we were sure it was not a terror attempt,” said the source.

Continental Airlines issued a statement on Wednesday that said the following:

"Continental Airlines Flight 90 from Newark with 251 passengers landed safely in Tel Aviv at 4:30 this afternoon. Before the arrival, there was a temporary lapse in communications between the plane and the Air Traffic Control tower, and responsibility for the flight was passed from one control tower to a second one.

"As a result of this, the Air Force made contact with the plane and escorted it to its landing at its intended destination - Ben-Gurion Airport."

Continental Airlines also said that is was investigating the situation in order to avoid similar such incidents in the future.

The Transportation Ministry was investigating to see if it was technical reasons for the initial lack of communication between the aircraft and Israeli ground control.

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