A Thomson Airways passenger jet with 189 people aboard was forced to dodge a missile that came within 1000 feet of the aircraft earlier this year as it was descending to land at the same airport from which the crashed Russian Metrojet took off.
The British government confirmed the incident, but issued no further information.
In other developments, European aviation experts who have examined the two flight recorders from the doomed Russian jet are categorically saying the crash was not an accident. And the head of the Egyptian team investigating the crash says a noise was heard in the last second of the cockpit recording that could indicate a bomb going off.
The incident with the Thomson Airways jet was being played down by both the government and the airline:
It said the jet came within 1,000 feet of a missile in its trajectory August 23, and went on to land safely. The paper said passengers were kept in the dark about the incident.
A UK government spokesman confirmed the media reports, but he did not provide any specifics.
“We investigated the reported incident at the time and concluded that it was not a targeted attack and was likely to be connected to routine exercises being conducted by the Egyptian military in the area at the time,” the spokesman said in a statement.
In a statement, Thomson Airways said “an event was reported by the crew of flight TOM 476” on August 23. The statement did not describe the event, but said an investigation “concluded there was no cause for concern” and it was safe to fly into Sharm el-Sheikh.
A “routine exercise” by the Egyptian military? What military exercise casually throws up a missile that comes within 10 miles of a passenger plane, much less 1000 feet?
And the company pulls a Kevin Bacon — “Remain calm. All is well” — when trying to convince people the airport that has a reputation for having notoriously lax security is safe to fly into. It sounds like a cover-up to me. And we can expect this sort of response from governments and airline companies in the future. Who wants to admit that a terrorist group has anti-aircraft capability? Such an admission would panic the flying public. Everyone remembers that the airline industry was nearly destroyed following 9/11 and no one wants a repeat.
Meanwhile, even the Egyptians, who have been denying terrorism since the crash, may be coming around to the idea that a bomb brought the aircraft down.
A noise was heard in the final second of the cockpit voice recording on Metrojet Flight 9268 as it ascended on autopilot before apparently breaking up about 23 minutes after takeoff, the head of Egypt’s investigation, Ayman al-Muqaddam, said Saturday.
The Russian passenger jet crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last weekend, killing all 224 people aboard.
While U.S. and UK officials have said there may have a bomb aboard the jet, the chief of Egypt’s investigation said authorities have not reached any conclusion yet as to what brought down the flight.
“All the scenarios are out on the table,” Muqaddam told reporters. “We don’t know what happened exactly.”
Still, European investigators who analyzed the two flight recorders are saying the crash is not an accident, CNN affiliate France 2 reported Friday.
The investigators said the cockpit voice recorder indicates an explosion, and the flight data recorder confirms the explosion was not accidental, and there was no sign of mechanical malfunction during the initial part of the flight, France 2 reported.
Everything was fine during the first 24 minutes, then in a fraction of a second there was a blackout and no further cockpit conversation, convincing investigators there was a bomb on board, according to France 2.
If it was a bomb that brought down the plane, tightening security is a good idea. But if the Islamic State has access to anti-aircraft missiles, no amount of security on the ground will prevent them from shooting down passenger jets wherever they can position a missile.