Eurofighter Typhoons took off from the quick reaction alert base at Coningsby in Lincolnshire minutes after warnings of suspected attempts to hijack American airliners.
Procedures were triggered that could ultimately lead to a decision to destroy the aircraft, to avoid mass casualties. Last Monday British air traffic control picked up the words “hostage” and “ransom” from a United Airlines plane bound for Frankfurt in Germany. The plane suddenly dropped height south of Reading in Berkshire and a request for the airliner’s auxiliary power unit to be activated – a very unusual occurrence – was heard.
The Typhoons from Coningsby approached the airliner over Manston airfield in Thanet, east Kent, a matter of minutes – after the alert was first sounded, according to officials familiar with the incident.
In the other incident earlier this month, on 2 March, the crew of an American Airlines plane put out an alert, picked up by the air defence control and reporting centre at Boulmer in Northumberland, warning that somebody was trying to get into the cockpit.
Pilots of the Typhoons at Coningsby and RAF Tornado F3 fighters at Leuchars in Fife – the UK’s other quick reaction alert base – were immediately briefed and ordered to intercept the airliner. The Tornados were soon stood down but the Typhoons flew on until they were close enough to identify the airliner, whose exact position had been unclear. Armed police from Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism command were alerted, as was No 10.
The airliner’s crew soon radioed that the incident was not a credible attempt to hijack the plane and the passenger was under control and under guard. Both incidents were false alarms. (Or were they test runs?)
There is a terrorism alert involving civil airliners in British airspace about once a month. UK GUARDIAN