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Saturday, 6 July, 2002, 22:34 GMT 23:34 UK
'Meteor' caused Israeli plane alert
Ukrainian officials say the "strong flash" reported by the pilot of an Israeli plane over Ukraine on Thursday was probably caused by a meteor entering the atmosphere.

In a statement on Saturday, the Ukrainian defence ministry said no missiles had been fired in the area at the time.


We have checked all our missiles, and I can tell you they are all there

Kostyantyn Khivreno, Ukrainian defence ministry spokesman
The pilot had reported seeing what he believed to have been a missile exploding in mid-air at a distance from his aircraft.

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.

The Israeli Government said the El Al plane was never in danger during the latest incident.

Flash

"Specialists with the Ukraine Space Agency have concluded that it was probably a light phenomenon resulting from a meteor's entry into the earth's atmosphere," Ukraine defence ministry spokesman Kostyantyn Khivreno told AFP news agency.

Mr Kvirenko said the Ukrainian forces had "nothing to do with this".

"We have checked all our missiles, and I can tell you they are all there," the AFP quoted him as saying.


Firing missiles is totally banned in Ukraine

Leonid Kuchma
Ukraine President

"The airplane crews who saw over Ukrainian territory on July 4 a flash that resembled a missile explosion were observing phenomena of unidentified origin not related to the activities of the Ukrainian armed forces," the statement said.

Thursday night's reported 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.

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.

'Absurd'

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 incident, firing missiles is totally banned in Ukraine," he said.

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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