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Tue, Apr 17, 2007

Nuclear Capable Missile Forces Passenger Jet Diversion

New Delhi Insists all Aviation Authorities Notified Of Test

A Garuda Indonesia Boeing 747 carrying several hundred passengers last week was forced to turn around when controllers told the pilots a nuclear-capable ballistic missile had been launched in their vicinity.

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry told the Associated Press the aircraft was in Indian airspace when the incident occurred Thursday... and has demanded an explanation from New Delhi. New Delhi has insisted Indian aviation authorities were informed about Thursday's test launch well in advance.

The 747 was en route from Jakarta to Saudi Arabia with 413 people on board when the Indian control tower informed the pilots the missile had been launched, said Ari Sapari, the national carrier's director.

"We were not given any advance warning about this missile test," he said. "This was obviously confusing and worrying. It also caused us to disrupt an international flight schedule -- a great financial expense."

The jet landed back in Jakarta then took off again for Jeddah seven hours later, he said. A Riyadh-bound Garuda flight was delayed as well because of the test.

"We have to make sure this does not happen in the future," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kristiarto Legowo said.

Indonesia is trying to come to terms with a declining safety record following a series of deadly air, train and ferry accidents.  The country has said it will seek a response from an Indian diplomat.

"A notice was sent a week before the test," said government spokesman Navtej Sarna. Aviation officials were told "about the launch window date, danger time, zone and height," he said, and had been advised to "issue notice to aviators and mariners."

The missile, called the Agni III, is a short to intermediate range missile and was launched from Wheeler Island off of the Indian state of Orissa and is said to be capable of and is capable of carrying a payload of 2,200 lb or a nuclear warhead.



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