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Meteorite May Have Alarmed Pilot

July 6, 2002

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) _ A meteorite may have caused the flash that alarmed an Israeli pilot flying over Ukraine, Ukrainian officials said Saturday, insisting it was not a missile.

An El Al pilot reported seeing a missile fired from the ground over central Ukraine during a Tel Aviv-Moscow flight on Thursday night. Israeli officials said the missile exploded a few miles from the plane.

Pilots of two other planes flying over the Dnipropetrovsk region reported seeing a big blue fireball that resembled a missile explosion at the same time, the ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies cited Ukrainian aviation officials as saying Saturday.

The incident was a sensitive issue in the Ukraine because in October, an errant missile fired from a Ukrainian military base shot down a Russian plane, killing all 78 people on board, most of them immigrants to Israel.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that no missiles had been fired in the area that night and that the pilots may have witnessed a meteorite entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Officials from Ukraine’s National Space Agency also suggested a meteorite could have been the culprit, as did Yaroslav Skalko, deputy chairman of Ukraine’s civil aviation department, ITAR-Tass and Interfax reported.

``The airplane crews who saw over Ukrainian territory on July 4 a flash that resembled a missile explosion were observing phenomena of unidentified origin not related to the activities of the Ukrainian armed forces,″ the Defense Ministry statement said.

The ministry said the stocks of missiles and other long-range ammunition have been inspected and nothing is missing, according to ITAR-Tass and Interfax.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said Friday that no missile-firing exercises had been held in Ukraine since the October crash.

Israeli officials were especially concerned about the incident because it came the same day that an Egyptian immigrant shot and killed two people at the El Al’s ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport.

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