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An accident at Ben-Gurion International Airport was averted Friday when the pilot of an airliner aborted a landing at touchdown, only to take off and return for a safe landing.

The incident involved a Swiss Airbus 340 from Zurich, which came in to land but its pilot decided to abort the landing as the rear wheels of the wide-body jet touched down.

The pilot of the aircraft, which was carrying 288 passengers, felt there was insufficient runway left for him to stop the plane, and decided instead to accelerate, take off and return for a safe landing.

Flight 254 from Zurich was scheduled to land at 14:30 in the afternoon. A passenger describes the experience this way: "We approached Israel from the sea and turned southeast toward the Ben Shemen forest, and began turning toward the airport from the east. The aircraft was about to touch down on the tarmac when it suddenly began to take off at a sharp angle, turning at the same time."

"We did not know what was happening," the passenger says. "A few minutes later one of the crew informed the passengers there was something on the runway. The aircraft made another bypass and landed safely."

Avner Gordon, manager of Swiss International Air Lines in Israel, said yesterday that "during the landing of flight 254 the captain made a decision, according to Swiss safety procedures, to make another bypass and land. This is a routine procedure when the pilot feels there is insufficient distance between the touchdown point and the stopping point."

Ben-Gurion Airport is not equiped with an Instrument Landing System and pilots rely on their experience, instruments they have on board and instructions from the control tower to land the aircraft.