The interception of a SpiceJet flight from New Delhi to Kabul, with 120 people on board, by Pakistani fighter jets last month was the result of a misunderstanding, officials of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Thursday.
The “call sign” assigned to the Boeing 737 resulted in confusion about whether it was a military or civilian aircraft, said the officials who declined to be named. The incident, which occurred on September 23, ended with the Pakistan Air Force jets escorting the airliner out of Pakistani airspace.
One official said Pakistani authorities mistook the SpiceJet flight for a military aircraft. The airliner was intercepted by two F-16 jets and escorted for almost half an hour.
“There was confusion about whether it was a civilian or a military aircraft,” the official said. “We cannot give details as it is a sensitive matter pertaining to a bilateral relationship.”
Spicejet didn’t comment on any aspect of the incident and there was no word from the external affairs ministry.
One report said that the 120 passengers that were on board could see the accompanying Pakistan aircraft but were told to shut their windows. While the return flight was delayed due to the confusion, the DGCA official confirmed that the flights to Kabul are running normally now. Spicejet flies daily to the Afghanistan capital.
Pakistan closed its airspace to flights originating from or transiting through India after the air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) facility at Balakot on February 26 but it subsequently eased these restrictions for all civilian flights. At the time of the incident, there were no restrictions in place for Indian airlines.
During the incident, the F-16 jets flanked the airliner and asked its pilot to decrease its altitude. The F-16s escorted the flight out of Pakistani airspace after the confusion was sorted out.
Last month, Pakistan had refused to allow special flights carrying Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind to allow its airspace following India’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
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