A plane carrying British holidaymakers to Sharm el-Sheikh came within 300 metres (1,000ft) of a missile as it neared the Egyptian airport in August, the government has confirmed.
A Thomson Airways flight from London Stansted to the Red Sea resort, carrying 189 passengers, took evasive action after the missile was spotted in its trajectory by the pilot. The crew of flight TOM 476 landed the plane safely and passengers were not advised of the incident, which occurred on 23 August.
The incident is not thought to be directly linked to Britain’s decision to curtail flights to Sharm el-Sheikh in the wake of the crash of the Russian Metrojet airliner, killing 224 people, last Saturday. However, it will underline fears that regional instability could threaten flights, as more countries joined Britain in restricting air travel and imposing tougher security measures.
The Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed that the incident took place but said it did not believe the missile was an attempt to target the British plane, instead ascribing the missile seen by the Thomson pilots to Egyptian military manoeuvres. Airlines are currently prohibited from flying below 26,000 feet over the Sinai peninsula due to fears that Islamic militants fighting the Egyptian government could have weapons capable of bringing down a plane.
The Manpads – portable anti-aircraft missile launchers, which intelligence agencies believe Isis-affiliated groups could possess – are capable of targeting planes only at low altitudes. A government spokesperson said: “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.”
Thomson said that crew reported the missile near-miss to the DfT immediately after conducting an assessment upon landing in Sharm el-Sheikh, in line with established protocol.
A spokesperson said: “The DfT conducted a full investigation in conjunction with other UK government experts. After reviewing the details of the case, the investigation concluded that there was no cause for concern and that it was safe to continue our flying programme to Sharm el-Sheikh.” ( The Guardian)