“We thought we are going to take this plane down” “Barak” (F-16C/D) jets on a routine training flight were deployed towards a civilian plane owned by “Continental airlines”

Hila Polka | Nikolai Avrutov


A special event took place at the north control tower yesterday afternoon. It all started with unclear radio communication on the emergency-only radio channel.

“We didn’t have this kind of a situation since the war”, says Lt. Col. Aviv, commander of the Northern Air Control Unit. “It was a large civilian plane, which failed to communicate on the normal channels, and on top of that was sending unclear messages on the emergency channel. We had to deploy our air-defence systems. The first to be deployed were the “Barak” jets, followed by “Baz” (F-15) jets. Additional aircrafts were on standby”.

It is not uncommon for military jets to be deployed towards civilian aircraft. Normally, such incidents are aborted. But yesterday was different. Top decision makers were involved, briefed on the situation, and asked to decide whether the aircraft needs to be intercepted or not.

“We arrived to the plane, fell into an escort formation, and waited for orders”, says Maj. Yam, a deputy commander of the “Knights of the Double Tail” squadron. “We didn’t know if this plane was actually hijacked”.

“This was a complex incident, as the pilot was not even aware of the breakdown in communication”, concludes Lt. Col. Aviv. “We thought we were going to take this plane down. Top decision makers were already involved, and we are glad that it ended so well”.

Only after the combat jets fired flares on both sides of the aircraft, the communication with the control tower was restored.