Pakistan F-16s intercept SpiceJet flight after code confusion


Kabul-bound Indian passenger plane had 120 people on board

A SpiceJet aircraft takes off from the international airport in Mumbai. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: Amid tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad after Balakot air strikes in February, Pakistani fighter jets intercepted a Kabul-bound Indian passenger plane over their airspace in September.

The incident is believed to have been caused by the plane being given a military instead of a commercial flight code.

The SpiceJet flight was mid-air when two Pakistani F-16 jets flanked the commercial plane and asked its pilot to lower its altitude and report to them with the flight details.

The incident occurred on September 23 and the flight involved in the incident was SG-21, which had taken off from Delhi for Kabul. Around 120 passengers were on board.

It was reported when Pakistan airspace was not closed for India.

The SpiceJet captain briefed Pakistani F-16 jet pilots, saying, “This is SpiceJet, Indian commercial aircraft, which carries passengers and is going to Kabul as per schedule,” sources told ANI.

When the F-16s rounded up SpiceJet, the Pakistani jets and their pilots could be seen by passengers.

One of the passengers on the flight, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Pakistani fighter pilot instructed SpiceJet pilot through hand signs to lower altitude.

According to sources, it caused confusion in Pakistan when the SpiceJet flight was given an ‘IA’ code, which was misinterpreted as the Indian Army or India Airforce.

When Pakistani ATC reported an aircraft coming from India with an IA code they immediately launched the F-16s.

After the confusion was sorted out, the Pakistani fighters escorted the SpiceJet plane out of Pakistan airspace, a DGCA official confirmed.

“At the time when Pakistani F-16s were flying around their flight, all passengers were asked to shut their windows and maintain silence,” the passengers said.

After the flight landed safely in Kabul, its return journey was delayed by almost five hours as Pakistani embassy officials in Kabul scrambled to clear paperwork involving the mid-air mix up.