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Pilot of Arkia Flight 582 Describes What Happened

Aired November 28, 2002 - 07:20   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Quickly to Tel Aviv. Arkia is that airline, that charter airline that the Israelis flew out of Kenya earlier today. The president of the airline taking some questions. There is a translation involved here, so we will stop and listen and see what we can gather together.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... where we go. The Israeli forces and the staff of the plane now in Israel. Security, obviously, was put together by the double security services, security services, and this applies on all, on exactly the same level to all the Israeli aviation companies, the means that we adopt, and obviously I'm going to say this, specifically we can't give you details as to our security. They are there to first and foremost look after the security of passengers and, I would say, to try and deal with all possible situations and that's what we focus on today.

Before I give the floor to the captain, Rafi Marek, I want to make a general comment. Such an event, where they were suddenly in the center of attention, shall we say, this is something that you can't practice. You don't just sit down and think about it and what you're going to do. It's not an easy thing. But what we found is that the state of Israel, with all the appropriate authorities, are very well organized. And I have to say that the Israeli aviation authority and Ebiot Field (ph) and the Ben Gurion at Gabimore (ph) have worked very well and they worked in a very good way to set up an information center. And they'll also be able to respond to all your questions from the press corps and also from all of the families.

We have the Israeli Air Force and El Al who are partners, obviously, also, in aviation affairs and also the foreign affairs ministry, which immediately set up a situation room to deal with this incident. And there's something else I want to say. Overall, unfortunately, those who suffered today, those who, including the injured who got on the plane in Mombasa, we regret very, very greatly that people have been killed and people have been injured and we wish the survivors a complete and full rapid recovery.

HEMMER: We're going to continue to monitor this out of Tel Aviv. This apparently the pilot of that plane.


I'm sorry, I'm not used to such events, I must say. Just a little adjust of the microphone here. I was asked to describe what happened today. I'll do this briefly. The Mombasa flight is a regular Arkia flight. We run it every week. The flight to Mombasa and our landing there, all the organization, organizing everything to, for the return flight, everything was perfectly normal, standard, routine.

Immediately after we took off from Mombasa at a very low altitude, we felt a little blow to the plane. The initial association on the basis of my experience was that maybe there was some not very large bird that had collided with the plane. And immediately after that, we saw there were two smoke trails following us and they vanished a little bit later, after a couple of seconds. We carried out all the checks, all the records checks to check that the plane's systems were working. We didn't find anything that wasn't standard and we announced to Mombasa air control that we were continuing as normal, and that's what we did.

Subsequently, we established contact with the Arkia control center at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. Using radio communication, we informed them, we informed them of what had happened, of the incident, and they came back to us about half an hour later with the report by then as to what had happened on the ground in Mombasa.

And it turned out subsequently, well, we, some of us, in fact, in the crew did think that perhaps we had been shot at, but we weren't sure at first. So having heard about the tragic incident that had occurred in the hotel in Mombasa, we did think that it was likely to be connected.

The plane, as I've said, all of its systems reacted perfectly normally in a totally satisfactory fashion and since the passengers had also heard and some of them also had seen these white trails, we talked to them. We reassured them according to the cabin crew's report. No one was particularly bothered or upset in the cabin. Everyone understood. They took it in their stride. Everyone was very relaxed during the flight, as far as we were concerned. The whole flight until we landed back in Tel Aviv was absolutely routine.

In English, OK.

OK, I'll say a couple of words in English and then (AUDIO GAP).

HEMMER: All right, we brought down the translation to get the Hebrew interpretation into English and now they're speaking in English and we can't hear them. Nonetheless, though, a very interesting briefing there from the pilot's standpoint about what he saw and felt upon takeoff. This plane, with about 261 passengers on board, about 10 crew members, as well, a weekly flight that flies from Mombasa in southeastern Kenya back to Tel Aviv in the Middle East.

The pilot says upon takeoff they felt a little blow to the plane off the left side. At first he thought it might have been a large bird that collided with that jet. Two smoke trails following us, he describes. Later, he says, after a few seconds they vanished.

After hearing of the bombing at the hotel moments later when that plane was en route back to Tel Aviv, the thought came to the pilot, he says, of the possibility of a connection there. That plane did land safely in Tel Aviv. As we mentioned, well over 260 people on board. We have heard their eyewitness accounts. Many passengers describing some sort of explosion off the left hand side of the plane. But no reaction on board that plane until hours later. Right before they landed in Tel Aviv, the passengers were notified that they were, indeed, a target upon takeoff.


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