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Two terrorist missiles narrowly miss Arkia flight from Mombasa (JERUSALEM POST) By MATTHEW GUTMAN 11/29/02) Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/A/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1038465368196 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Two shoulder-fired SA-7 "Strella" anti-aircraft missiles fired narrowly missed an Arkia plane carrying 261 passengers Thursday, as it was taking off from Mombasa, Kenya, en route to Tel Aviv. The attack was almost perfectly synchronized with a deadly suicide bombing on a Mombasa resort owned and frequented by Israelis, which killed at least 12, including three Israelis.

As it lifted off from Mombasa airport shortly after 8 a.m, Arkia flight 582, which had hours earlier deposited some of what would be the bombing´s casualties in Mombasa, was rattled as the two missiles sailed past its left side, said pilot Rafi Marek.

Some of the passengers and 11 crew members said they recalled "a boom," which many took to be the result of a technical mishap.

"It began as a routine flight," recalled Marek at Ben-Gurion Airport, "but as we retracted the landing gear, we felt a light jolt. My first instinct was to think that we hit a bird. It was then that I saw two white trails of smoke passing on the left-hand side from the back to the front of the plane."

According to his estimate, the plane was at 500 feet when the missiles passed beneath it. The pilots checked the controls and all systems were operating as normal, so "I saw no reason not to continue on to Tel Aviv after consulting with the cabin crew," added Marek, a 13-year Arkia veteran, who in the immediate aftermath was still unable to identify the "white trails."

The pilots told the passengers, some of whom had noted the jolt and "boom," that there had been a technical difficulty, but that it was under control and posed no harm. Within half an hour, Marek had both contacted the flight tower in Mombasa and Ben-Gurion and learned of the attack at the Hotel Paradise. It was only 40 minutes before the plane landed here that he told his passengers about the missiles and the attack.

After a five-hour flight, the undamaged Boeing 757, accompanied by an IAF F-15 landed safely. A previously unknown group presumed to be connected to al-Qaida calling itself "The Army of Palestine," took responsibility for both of the attack.

Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the missile attack a "dangerous escalation of terror," and noted that Hizbullah possesses shoulder-fired rockets and that Palestinian groups have been feverishly trying to acquire them. "It´s just a question of time before they´ll down civilian aircraft," he warned.

Arkia director-general Yisrael Borovitch lauded Israel´s aviation security systems, calling its airlines the world´s safest and toughest. He said that aviation security has long been prepared for the possibility of a missile attack.

Meanwhile, tears of relief and of sadness for those who died back in Mombasa were shed as bleary-eyed passengers straggled through immigration and into Ben-Gurion Airport.

Many of them, clutched African artifacts they brought with them on the flight and retrieved duty-free items that now seemed to posses a diminished importance.

"I´m not crying for myself," said Avi Farodj, 37, clutching a Kora, an African string instrument with one hand and wiping his tears with the other, "but for the people who died in Mombasa, the people who were only trying to enjoy themselves." Like many other passengers, Farodj heard what he called "a boom" and felt the plane jolt shortly after take off. "I was sure it was a terrorist incident; no one else believed me. I thought we were doomed. And frankly, I still cannot really believe we were saved," he said.

Other passengers emotionally embraced relatives. Many, like Sharon Healdth, 23, of Ra´anana, had left the Hotel Paradise just hours before the attack.

She said "there was no real panic. It was a surreal feeling, but the crew handled the situation so professionally, talking to us, calming us, and even joking." (© 1995-2002, The Jerusalem Post 11/29/02)

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