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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
'Missile' explodes near Israeli plane
The pilot of an Israeli plane has reported seeing what he believes to have been a missile exploding in mid-air at a distance from his aircraft while flying over Ukraine.


There is no doubt that [the pilot] saw a missile that exploded in the air

Ephraim Sneh, Israeli Transport Minister

The Ukrainian defence ministry have ruled out any involvement by their forces.

The Israeli Government says the El Al plane was never in danger.

Last year, 78 people died when a Russian airliner flying from Israel was hit over Ukraine by what was believed to have been a stray missile fired during a military exercise.

Flash

Thursday night's incident occurred during a regular El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Moscow.

The pilot saw a "strong flash" at a distance while flying over Dnipropetrovsk in Ukraine, El Al said.


Firing missiles is totally banned in Ukraine

Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine President
Israeli Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh said he had spoken at length with the pilot, whom he described as an experienced air force veteran.

"There is no doubt that he saw a missile," Mr Sneh told Israeli Army Radio.

"Circumstances suggest it was not launched at the El Al plane," Mr Sneh added.

A Russian pilot, flying a Urals Airlines plane, told Ukrainian air traffic controllers that he had also seen a strong flash, according to AFP news agency.

Israeli and Russian officials are investigating the incident.

Freak phenomenon?

But Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the suggestion that the incident involved a Ukrainian missile was "absurd".

Wreckage being removed from the Black Sea in October 2001
A Ukrainian missile caused last year's plane crash
"After last year's unfortunate incidents, firing missiles is totally banned in Ukraine," he said.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko said the reported flash was most likely "some sort of an atmospheric phenomenon or something else".

In October last year, a Tu-154 plane operated by Sibir airlines flying from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk in Siberia exploded in mid-air over Ukraine, before crashing into the Black Sea.

All those on board - most of them Israelis - were killed.

After repeated denials, the Ukrainian defence ministry conceded that one of its ground-to-air missiles had brought the aircraft down.

See also:

05 Jul 02 | Americas
10 Oct 01 | Europe
08 Oct 01 | Europe
09 Oct 01 | Europe
22 Apr 00 | Europe
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