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Major security alert over Manchester-bound flight

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Two RAF fighters last Friday intercepted a Manchester-bound Boeing 747 after it failed to respond to air traffic controllers, the BBC reports. Pakistan Airlines flight PK 709 - carrying 81 passengers plus crew - should have made contact with controllers as it entered UK airspace. Air traffic controllers in Maastricht lost touch with the aircraft as it left Northern Europe.

The fighters escorted the plane from the Lincolnshire coast until it got to within 40 miles of Manchester, at which point the pilot checked in and subsequently landed 20 minutes later. The crew were reportedly unaware of the security alert they had sparked, and claimed that they were unable to contact Manchester and therefore spoke to London controllers instead. National Air Traffic Services (NATS) denies this, adding that the RAF flyboys would not have been put in the air had this been the case.

Pakistan Airlines is investigating the matter, and NATS has reported the incident to the Civil Aviation Authority.

A spokesman for the RAF declined to go into specifics of the case, but noted that the RAF responded with "well practised defence measures" designed to deal with any airborne threat "believed to be about to launch an attack such as those seen on September 11 2001". There seems little doubt, therefore, that had the pilot not contacted air traffic control when he did, his aircraft would shortly thereafter have been shot down. The final call on whether or not to destroy an airliner rests with unnamed senior officials. The spokesman told The Register that such "assessments and decisions would be made at the highest level". ®

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