Swiss F/A 18s intercept Israeli airliner

A Swiss F/A-18 fighter jet during a flight show in Axalp, Switzerland Keystone

Two fighter jets of the Swiss air force have intercepted an Israeli El Al airliner near Schaffhausen due to an anonymous bomb threat, authorities said. and agencies

The F/A 18 jets had to break the sound barrier while reacting quickly to catch the airliner on a flight that originated from New York's John F Kennedy airport in the United States, according to Schaffhausen police and Skyguide, the Swiss-based air traffic controllers.

That caused two thunderous supersonic booms around 8:30 am on Tuesday in the northern Swiss canton of Schaffhausen, bordering Germany. The airliner later landed safely and on schedule at midday in Tel Aviv, Israeli media reported.

No bomb was found.

Mission completed

The two Swiss fighter jets were scrambled to accompany the El Al Boeing 747 Flight 002 from New York to Tel Aviv, as it flew over Switzerland. El Al, Israel's biggest airline, is known for its tight security because of the regular threat of terror attacks.

Such a "hot mission" by the Swiss Air Force is brought on when a foreign aircraft violates Swiss airspace or sends a distress signal.

The Swiss jets established visual contact with the pilot of the El Al plane, and then returned to their bases once the airliner left Swiss territory.

The plane already had been accompanied by French warplanes in France's airspace. And after leaving Switzerland, Bulgarian jet fighters escorted the Israeli airliner over its territory, the defence ministry in Sofia said.

The plane continued on to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, where it landed without incident and no bomb was found on board, an Israeli security official said.

The Israeli foreign ministry said US aviation authorities received the anonymous tip, which referred to a bomb having been placed inside an airplane kitchenette. After no bomb was found, Flight 002 completed its route.

Beefed-up readiness

Only recently, the Swiss air force has been getting ready to launch an around-the-clock air policing operation, after being criticised as an office-hours only air force.

That criticism stemmed from its failure to intervene in a hijacking case involving an Ethiopian airliner two years ago.

Fighter jets couldn’t be sent to intercept the plane since the air force wasn’t set up to police the Swiss skies outside of office hours.

As of this year, however, the Swiss air force is extending its operations so that by 2020 two armed fighter jets will be ready to fly missions at any time.

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