Austria scrambles fighter jets after El Al plane briefly goes silent

Monday incident ended harmlessly as communications restored on 777 from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv; pilots went incommunicado for 12 minutes

An El Al plane after takeoff from Ben Gurion Airport. September 7, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
An El Al plane after takeoff from Ben Gurion Airport. September 7, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Austrian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a commercial El Al flight over Europe Monday after radio communications with the plane suddenly dropped.

Communications with the Boeing 777-200 flying from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv were restored after about 12 minutes, Austria’s defense ministry said Tuesday. The plane landed safely at Ben-Gurion Airport without incident.

The problem was first noticed at 1:08 p.m. CEST when controllers at a radar tower in Rhein, Germany, attempted to hand over the flight, LY338, to a flight control tower in Austria, according to The Aviation Herald, which reports on air traffic incidents.

When the pilots did not respond to repeated requests for confirmation, authorities deployed two Eurofighter jets to make visual contact with the plane, which was cruising at 37,000 feet at the time according to flight tracking data.

Austrian authorities said the plane was over Spittal an der Drau in Austria’s mountainous southern region of Corinthia when the planes made contact at 1:20 p.m. Communications were restored at the same time.

There was no immediate comment from El Al or Israeli aviation authorities on the incident or its cause.

Communications failures are fairly common and are usually restored after a short time. However, protocol calls for efforts to be made to re-establish contact and confirm the plane is not in an emergency.

United Airlines Capt. Tommy Holloman, left, and Capt. Chuck Stewart demonstrate radio communications, right, and the Data Communications Data Comm technology, left, from the cockpit of an United Airlines Boeing 777 at Dulles International Airport Air Traffic Control Tower in Sterling, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP/Cliff Owen)

El Al recently returned its fleet of 777s to service after mothballing them during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Ynet.

Last week, an El Al 787 taking off from Tel Aviv for Los Angeles turned back due to an issue with oil pressure.

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