Tel Aviv: An El Al flight from New York that was escorted Tuesday by military jets in Europe following a bomb threat landed safely in Israel.
El Al President David Maimon said Flight 002 from John F Kennedy airport touched down midday after an anonymous tip was received regarding a potential bomb threat onboard. Following the tip, France and Switzerland deployed military jets over their airspaces as escorts for the Boeing 747 plane flying toward Israel.
The threat was ultimately unfounded but it marked a rare security scare for El Al, generally regarded as one of the world's most secure airlines.
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.
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 German-speaking Switzerland after two sonic booms echoed after two Swiss F/A-18 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."
He said French military jets had also escorted the flight prior to its entry into Swiss airspace, but he did not have further details. French officials had no immediate comment.
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.