El Al flight 324 from Paris to Tel Aviv was escorted to Israel by air force fighter planes before its 8 P.M. landing Wednesday night due to suspicions a bomb had been placed onboard. The event proved a false alarm.
After landing, the Boeing 767 carrying 237 passengers parked far from the terminal, and passengers were bused to the main terminal and went through a security check. El Al technical staff, meanwhile, examined the plane for a bomb.
"We saw fighter planes from the windows. The captain explained to us what was happening," said a passenger.
A few days ago, Israeli security authorities received a warning that a bomb might be placed on the flight, and alerted their French counterparts. Strict security measures were taken even before the plane took off from Charles de Gaulle Airport, and French warplanes escorted the plane until it left French airspace.
The other countries along the plane's route were notified, and they all chose to have the plane escorted.
Israeli authorities implemented the standard procedures in such cases, even though Israeli security authorities believed the event was a false alarm, particularly in light of the severe security measures taken in Paris, Haaretz has learned.
In general, fighters escort a commercial flight in cases of suspected hijackings to direct the plane or prevent it from flying to other destinations. If the authorities had truly suspected a bomb had been placed onboard, the plane would have been directed to make an emergency landing on the way.
Zeev Sarig, the managing director of Ben-Gurion Airport, told Haaretz Wednesday: "In order to rule out any possibility [of a bomb], we conducted examinations of the passengers and the plane, to ensure the plane was clean. The process was carried out with no problems."
This is not the first time in recent years that air force jets were scrambled to escort commercial flights on their way to Israel, whether for fears of hijackings or false alarms of bombs placed onboard.
For example, a Lufthansa flight was forced to land in Larnaca, Cyprus in 2004 after an anonymous caller phoned the airline's offices in Germany and warned of a bomb onboard. Lufthansa said the caller spoke in an Arabic accent. After being checked, the plane was allowed to continue to Israel.
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