El Al Plane Almost Collides in Midair

Israeli pilots averted disaster over Red Sea only 700 feet from second plane.

An error by Eritrean air traffic controllers last month almost caused a midair collision between an El Al plane and another aircraft over the Red Sea, an El Al official revealed.

An Israeli plane carrying 200 passengers was en route to the Far East when it received permission from air traffic controllers in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, to enter an international air lane.

However, the controllers neglected to tell the El Al plane how close it would be to another aircraft.

The polits flying the Israeli plane, a Boeing 767, were alerted to the danger by the plane's Total Access Communications System when they were only 700 feet from the other plane, and changed course to avoid a collision.

"The junction of the Red Sea flight corridor and the African air lanes is very problematic," said Lior Yavor, El Al's Senior Vice President of Operations. "El Al asked the Transportation Ministry to take care of the issue through official channels to reduce chances of a conflict. The transportation minister has taken action and the incident is being handled by the chief air accident investigator, Yitzhak Raz."

Flights from Israel to the Far East have to fly south over the Red Sea before turning east, because they cannot fly over most Arab countries.

The area near the Gulf of Eden is particularly dangerous because it is not covered by radar, and plane locations are reported solely by radio.

All El Al planes are equipped with TACS, which warns pilots when an unidentified aircraft is within 19 kilometers.

In 1998 the Israeli company was among the first in the world to furnish all of its planes with the technology, at a cost of NIS 5 million, three years before it became mandatory.