Avianca 787 Harassed in Venezuelan Airspace by Fighter Jets that Flew Close Enough to Trigger Collision-Warning System
Last night, an Avianca 787 carrying 248 passengers was harassed by Venezuelan military fighter jets over Venezuelan airspace on a return flight back to Bogotá from Spain. The apparently hostile Russian-made Sukhoi jets got close enough to trigger an automatic collision-warning system aboard Flight AV011 before flying off, according to the Colombian Ministry of Defense.
While nobody was harmed and the plane landed safely at 8:05 pm at El Dorado International Airport in the Colombian capital, the tense, frightening situation was reviewed by top government officials, according to local newspaper El Tiempo. Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas spoke with his Venezuelan counterpart General Vladimir Padrino as soon as the incident became known. Foreign Ministers Maria Angela Holguin of Colombian and Delcy Rodríguez of Venezuela also talked on the phone. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro then reportedly ordered for an investigation into how this situation could have happened.
Later on Saturday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tried to downplay the significance of the perplexing mid-air encounter and assure the public that this was an isolated incident. “The ministers have spoken and cleared it all up,” said President Santos, according to Reuters. “Everything is normal. There’s no need to worry.”
Avianca cancelled all scheduled flights to Venezuela on Saturday in the aftermath of the confusion and diverted the course for all other flights — such as those to Madrid and Barcelona — to avoid their typical route through Venezuelan airspace. BluRadio in Colombia reported that a flight to Barbados from Colombia was also cancelled.
Later on Saturday, after hearing from government officials that there was no reason for ongoing concern, the airline announced that it would return to flying its normal routes on Sunday, including flights to Venezuela. “After clarifications between the governments of Colombia and Venezuela about the incident registered last night in Venezuelan skies with an Avianca plane, the Colombian civil aviation authority has authorized the restart of operations to and from Venezuela,” said Avianca in a statement on Saturday.
On Saturday morning, Colombia’s Ministry of Defense confirmed the incident and said that the Air Force’s radar and emergency warning system identified the Avianca flight traveling beside “other aircraft with similar flight conditions at close range to the commercial plane.” Crew aboard the flight also reported the collision-warning system had begun to sound. The concerned pilot eventually entered Colombian airspace at 7:19 pm before landing in Bogotá at 8:05 pm local time.
This article has been updated to reflect new information learned throughout the day.