IN MEMORIAM: LIBYAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 114
At 10:30 a.m. on 21 February 1973, Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 took off on its regularly-scheduled flight from Tripoli to Cairo.
The plane, a Boeing 727, was being piloted by a French crew under a contractual arrangement between Air France and the Libyan national airline. After a brief stop at the city of Benghazi in eastern Libya, Flight 114 continued en route to Cairo with 113 persons on board.
As the airliner flew over northern Egypt on its approach to Cairo, it suddenly encountered a blinding sandstorm which forced the crew to switch to instrument control because the geographic features which ordinarily served as landmarks could not be discerned in the swirling tempest. A short time later, the pilot discovered that he had made a navigational error because of a compass malfunction: the plane had missed an air traffic beacon, and he could not ascertain its current location. He radioed the Cairo air control tower with an urgent plea for assistance. The Egyptian flight controllers radioed back, giving him the information necessary to correct the plane’s course and warning that it appeared that the plane might have strayed over the Sinai peninsula, which at that time was occupied by Israeli forces.
The pilot immediately corrected the course, and LN 114 was heading back to Cairo when the crew noticed two military jets approaching. The crew members expressed relief, for they believed that the jets were Egyptian fighters sent to escort their plane to safety at the Cairo airport. Such, however, proved not to be the case: the two jets were in fact Israeli Phantoms, and, before the pilot of LN 114 had been able to make out the “Star of David” markings on their wings, they had directed three bursts of cannon fire into the Boeing 727, blasting it from the sky.
Flight 114 smashed into the Sinai desert only one minute’s flying time from Egyptian-controlled territory, killing 106 men, women and children aboard.
At first, Israel attempted to deny its culpability for the tragedy. However, after 24 February when the Boeing’s “black box” which had recorded the pilot’s conversations with the Cairo control tower was recovered, such denial was no longer possible. The Israeli government then did a volte-face and revealed that LN 114 had been shot down with the personal authorization of Dado Elazar, the Israeli Chief of Staff. Commenting on the decision to blow up the civilian airliner, Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel, showered Elazar with praise, and exulted, “I want to tell you that I don’t just appreciate you, I admire you!”
The United Nations failed to take any action against Israel for its destruction of the Libyan passenger plane, and when the 30 member nations of the International Civil Aviation Organization voted to censure Israel for the attack, the U.S. abstained.