German Air Force Prepared to Shoot Down Commercial Flight to London

On Thursday a Jet Airways Boeing 777-300 operating from Mumbai to London Heathrow with 330 passengers and 15 crew onboard lost radio contact with air traffic control as it was handed over from Bratislava to Prague Center.

The aircraft continued flying as expected, but without radio contact Germany sent two fighter jets to intercept.

Contact was re-established on an emergency frequency when the aircraft was north of Nuremberg, Germany although the intercept continued.

The aircraft eventually landed safely at Heathrow.

The Aviation Herald reports that the Jet Airways plane transposed radio frequency digits with the crew tuning to “132.980MHz while the correct frequency was 132.890MHz.”

Here from the cockpit of British Airways BA2042 from Male to London Gatwick which was trailing the Jet Airways plane you can see the German Air Force aircraft catching up to the Jet Airways 777.

This is almost always discussed in the form of a euphamism but to be clear when planes are intercepted by fighter jets the primary reason is so that the commercial aircraft can be shot down, or to create a credible threat to shoot down the plane, when believed to be taken over by terrorists. They always go up prepared to bring down the plane. Scary stuff and grateful they were able to re-establish contact.

One fascinating story is that on 9/11 an F-16 scrambled to go after United flight 93 and they hadn’t had time to arm it. Without missiles, the Air Force jet was prepared for a kamikaze mission before the passengers themselves brought down the plane.

(HT: Live from a Lounge)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. When fighter jets are scrambled it’s to “create a credible threat to shoot down the plane,”…what does that mean? I hope it’s not an implication that a gov’t/fighter pilot WANTS to shoot down a plane without truly believing it’s posing a threat. They’re there to respond to a credible threat, not create a credible threat.

  2. Shooting down is a last resort, not primary reason. The jets are scrambled to asses the situation, which is far easier to do from next to the unresponsive plane then it is from the bloggers chair.

  3. No @Ben the fighter pilot is very unlikely to WANT to shoot down a commercial jetliner!

    @Lack – the primary reason to scramble jets is to be PREPARED TO shoot down the plane. “Assess the situation” — that’s hardly the primary purpose in most cases there is little information to be gathered visually cockpit-to-cockpit.

    I am not criticizing scrambling of jets in this post. It may ultimately be the right decision. Note the example I gave of United flight 93, the pilot was prepared to take their own life since they were unarmed. In that case the belief was that the lives of everyone onboard would be lost in the planned collision and that was inevitable so the goal would be to save the lives that would otherwise be lost at the plane’s target.

    But we talk about it in euphemisms. The jets are there IN CASE IT’S DECIDED the airliner needs to be shot down. Or to be able to credibly threaten down the plane to force a diversion. It’s not there as a ‘friendly gesture’ or somehow for the safety of the passengers onboard.

  4. The cliockbait title is strong with this one. This has been posted a zillion other places online but I haven’t seen anyone else be so reckless with how they title the video.

  5. @Joshua this is the very definition of *not* clickbait, because the title matches exactly the post of the text.

    No one else has written the story this way which is precisely why I did, in order to make the point that we talk about scrambling jets with euphemisms and don’t make clear what their purpose is. The point of this post wasn’t “a Jet Airways plane lost contact” (ho hum) the point was “here’s an example where everyone is talking around what’s going on.”

    You may not like that, or you are welcome to offer analysis which disagrees, but there’s no question that the post makes the point which is contained in the title, thus it is decidedly not clickbait. On that score you’re wrong.

    [Not every post you don’t like or disagree with corresponds to whatever aspersion you wish to cast.]

  6. There’s no excuse for the pilots to have been out of contact for any length of time.

    First, you have two radios… you always tune the radio you’re *not* using to the *new* frequency, and make the handoff. If for any reason that doesn’t work, you *switch back* to the previous radio/frequency, and describe the situation.

    Next, the frequencies for “pop-up” contact are listed on charts. It would have been trivial to find a frequency that would work in their area.

    Finally, EVERYTHING listens on 121.5. Yes, it will cause alarms to go off, but if you’re out of options, it *does* work.

    I suspect that they switched to the new frequency, heard radio traffic, and skipped the step of checking in. Pilot error.

  7. Gary: I’m pretty sure Germany could shoot down a civilian airliner w/o scrambling a jet with their surface to air defense system. It just doesn’t know that is has to, hence the jet send off for visual confirmation.

    Since shouting from the rooftops would probably not be enough to catch the pilots attention, jets a pretty good solution – they’re fast, they’re available and they’re also capable of last resort countermeasures.

  8. Sensationalist tabloid crap as ususual from you.
    I try not to click on your bait titles anymore but couldn’t resist commenting on what an “air guinious” you are.

  9. I am sure stuff like that happens multiple times in a year above Germany alone. There is nothing extraordinary about it save for the fact that this one was filmed.

  10. What a clickbait title.

    Fighters are often sent scrambling to intercept “silent” flights – their main reason being visually identifying the aircraft and contacting the crew. This is a rather routine excerise.

    Even when NATO (and other) fighters are scrambled to intercept Russian military aircraft (as happens over the Baltic sea frequently) they are not “preparing to shoot it down”

  11. That’s an amazing story. I’m glad they were able to eventually communicate with the airplane and everyone was safe. It’s unfortunate that the pilots made the error on communicating on the wrong frequency. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen to often.

  12. I wouldn’t have been scared as a passenger, as long as it would be clear that those were fighter airplanes from German Luftwaffe or Marine (military).
    It is illegal in Germany to kill innocent civilians to prevent a bigger crime, to safe more people etc. It would be just like any other mass murder. This has been a ruling by German highest court from many years ago in the aftermath of 9/11.
    So for every informed flight enthusiast this article is either click baiting or plain alternativ facts.
    The video is cool, thank you for that, but please do your homework next time before posting.

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