An El Al plane almost crashed near Eilat in one of three known safety incidents in the past month, all of which were being investigated by Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority.
With 100 passengers on board, the El Al flight to Eilat narrowly avoided flying into a mountain, clearing its peak by a mere 200 meters, Channel 10 reported Sunday.
“It’s as dangerous as it gets,” Udi Zohar, the former head of the Civil Aviation Authority, told the news station.
According to the report, the plane — a Boeing-737 — approached the landing strip in Eilat’s airport when the control tower asked the pilots to circle and then return, because the runway wasn’t ready. What was supposed to be a routine procedure nearly ended in a tragic accident.
Flying without instruments, the pilots lost their sense of direction and flew west instead of south. It was a night with bad visibility and they didn’t notice the mountains looming in front of them, the report said. At the last moment, the pilots pulled the plane up and avoided the crash, but continued flying into Egypt’s no-fly zone before turning around.
The Transportation Ministry’s chief investigator was still looking into the matter, and in the meantime the pilots were suspended.
Zohar said that a situation in which the plane’s alarm bells were ringing “isn’t an event that can be ignored.” If someone thinks they can fly at a certain altitude in a certain direction “and they fly at the wrong altitude in the wrong direction,” it “invites them to crash into a mountain.”
Israel Radio reported that there were at least two other serious safety incidents involving El Al planes in recent weeks, including one plane which approached Ben-Gurion Airport at a low altitude, much closer to the nearby roofs than permitted.