Swiss Warplanes Escort El Al Jet After Bomb Threat

El Al planes at Ben Gurion airport. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
El Al planes at Ben Gurion International Airport. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Switzerland sent warplanes to escort an El Al Boeing 747 flying over its territory on Tuesday after a bomb threat was made against the airliner, Israel’s Airports Authority said.

The plane landed at its Tel Aviv destination, as scheduled. No emergency was declared at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport, where the El Al jet touched down

At Ben-Gurion Airport, worried relatives awaited the passengers in the arrival hall. The passengers themselves said they were unaware of the drama until landing.

“We came out of the plane, there was somebody from the news who asked if we know anything and we said we didn’t feel anything,” said Rivi Aharon. “He said they thought three was a bomb on the plane so I was very nervous.”

Another passenger, David Machlis, said he too was surprised.

“I heard that the plane was accompanied by a fighter plane,” he said. “But I did not see it … Not knowing was the best situation in my opinion.”

The Airports Authority said the Swiss Air Force had scrambled F-18 aircraft to escort the plane “because of a bomb threat.” The Swiss Air Force said it had deployed an air police “hot mission” to accompany a flight through an emergency situation.

Sky Guide, a Swiss air navigation service provider, said the bomb threat was received when the El Al aircraft was over France. It said the flight was accompanied by French fighter jets before it crossed into Swiss air space.

The Swiss air force said in a statement that it deployed jets around 8:30 a.m. on a so-called “hot mission,” that accompanied the flight. Vladi Barrosa, a spokesman for the Swiss government-run air navigation service Skyguide, said the plane left Swiss airspace safely into Austrian airspace.

The incident caused concern among locals in Switzerland after two sonic booms echoed after the aircraft were deployed for the escort. Barrosa, working in the Zurich area, said he too heard the blasts: “I thought my windows were about to burst.”

Barrosa said American authorities had alerted their European colleagues that “there might be a bomb in the galley of the airplane.”

He said jets are typically scrambled in these cases to relay the location of the plane and to establish visual contact with the pilots. They are also in place for the worst case scenario in which they would be required to shoot down the plane if it were hijacked and posed an imminent threat to targets on the ground.

The French air force said it also scrambled jets from an air base in Creil north of Paris after receiving a warning from an ally.

A spokeswoman, who was not authorized to be publicly named according to military policy, said jets accompanied the El Al flight from the moment it entered French airspace at the Atlantic Coast of Cherbourg until it crossed the Alps into Switzerland. The El Al pilot was in constant contact with the French pilot and with officials monitoring the air space, she said, adding that if it had been a confirmed threat they would have ordered an emergency landing.