Israelis aboard an airliner that narrowly escaped a missile attack in Kenya Thursday have arrived in Tel Aviv safely. Officials with the airline, Arkia, held a news conference to give their assessment of what happened.
Few passengers were even aware that two rockets were fired at the Arkia Boeing 757 jet shortly after take-off from Kenya's Mombassa Airport.
The pilot, Captain Rafi Marik, 46, thought that a bird had hit the bottom of the plane. "Right after take-off, as we retracted the landing gear, we heard some bump in the airplane, which in my experience was similar to a small bird strike at the bottom of the aircraft, which is not something unusual and we have encountered it several times before," he said.
At the time, the plane had just taken off, and Mr. Marik was absorbed in normal take-off procedures.
A few seconds later, he saw something that concerned him more. "Right after feeling this bump, we saw two white stripes, coming up from behind the airplane on the right side and a bit above us, and passing us from behind to the front of the airplane and disappearing after a few seconds," said Captain Marik.
He immediately checked all the systems on the aircraft and found nothing wrong. He saw no reason to stop the flight and proceeded to Tel Aviv.
Mr. Marik said a short while later he was radioed from Tel Aviv and told about a bombing attack at a hotel in Kenya as well as the possibility that his plane had come under missile attack. "We were not sure exactly what happened, all we knew is that something abnormal happened because not every day, you see this kind of rockets, or whatever it was,"he said.
The pilot was happy to report that all 261 passengers, three pilots and eight cabin attendants were unharmed and there was no damage to any part of the aircraft.
Israel Borovich, president and chief executive officer of Arkia, that the airline is assuming that the plane was almost hit in a deadly terrorist attack but the matter is still under investigation. "Our procedure is always to look at the worst possible scenario and that's the way we acted," said Israel Borovich. "As the captain said, he thinks it was a missile, there was no way we can be sure."
Mr. Borovich refused to disclose the airline's security methods, saying this might only serve to help those who wanted most to harm Israelis.