WASHINGTON (Feb. 21)
The U.S. government extended its sympathy today to the families of those killed in the downed Libyan commercial airliner. The State Department issued a statement in the name of Secretary of State William P. Rogers which said: “We were saddened today to learn of the shooting down of a Libyan airliner over Sinai resulting in the loss of some 70 lives. We extend the sympathies of the United States Government to the families of those who lost their lives in this tragedy. President Nixon has sent messages of condolence to Chairman Qaddafi (Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Prime Minister of Libya) and (Egyptian) President (Anwar) Sadat.”
Observers here suggested that Nixon may have sent his condolences to the Egyptian as well as the Libyan leader in recognition of the federation relationship between those countries and because the downed airliner was bound for Cairo when it apparently strayed over Israeli airspace in bad weather.
Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R.NY), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement: “Everyone’s heart must go out in sympathy to the victims and their families even pending clarification of what actually occurred in this most regrettable incident. The tragedies of this war in the Middle East are never ending and it is obviously war that continues. The world’s duty simply must be to bring about a just peace and to get the parties to negotiate it. It is truly top priority.”
PILOT REPORTED INTERCEPTION
(A spokesman for the Cairo office of the Libyan Arab Airlines said the pilot of the downed plane was Capt. Bolleret, a Frenchman and that its crew of eight or nine were French. Flight crews and maintenance teams of the Libyan airline are seconded from Air France. The spokesman said the plane was en route from Tripoli, Libya, to Cairo. He said it took off from Tripoli with 37 passengers aboard, mostly Arabs and more embarked at Benghazi.
The spokesman said the aircraft was over Lake Bardawil (on the north Sinai coast) when it contacted the Cairo control tower. Contact was then lost. Other reports from Cairo said that before loss of contact, the pilot reported that he had been intercepted by Israeli planes that ordered him to land. The sources said that the Boeing 727 was off course due to bad weather.)
(A British Foreign Office spokesman said in London today, “We deplore in the strongest possible terms the loss of innocent civilian life.” He added that “We deplore violence from wherever it comes…All this emphasizes the need for an early settlement of the Mideast crisis.” The latter part of the British statement was seen as a disapproving reference to last night’s Israeli commando raids on terrorist bases in northern Lebanon.)
(Hafez Ismail, President Sadat’s security advisor who is due in the U.S. tomorrow and meets with President Nixon in Washington Friday, said in London today that he was “horrified” by the downing of the Libyan plane. His was the first Egyptian reaction to the incident. He was quoted as saying that “The Israelis are getting very nervous and are committing serious provocative acts.”)
(At the United Nations today, Secretary General Kurt Waldheim expressed shock and concern over the incident and conveyed condolences to the Libyan UN Mission.)