Lizards, gas canisters and scary notes plague Egypt's skies

A series of unfortunate incidents have left people questioning the safety of Egyptian aviation.

egypt air 88 (photo credit: )
egypt air 88
(photo credit: )
Several security breaches have recently plagued flights in Egypt, raising concerns about the level of security in the Egyptian aviation industry. The latest in a string of safety scares was a sand lizard, found on Egypt Air flight 916 from Cairo to Abu Dhabi on Friday. Last week it was reported that a plane carrying 72 passengers and destined for Luxor was found with five combustible gas canisters in a box, with no tags or identifying features. Egypt, home to popular tourist features such as the magnificent pyramids, employs around 12.6 percent of its workforce in the tourism sector. Roger Kelenjian, operations manager at the Amman office of travel agents Abercrombie & Kent said security breaches in Egypt were likely to affect the tourism industry all over the Middle East. He also attested to a higher level of security in countries like Jordan and Egypt, whose tourist resorts have been targeted by Al-Qa'ida-inspired terrorism in recent years. "We have a security level that's higher than before at hotels and at airports," he told The Media Line. "At hotels there are security points at the entrance and surveillance cameras and in Egypt it's the same." "Concerning the flights and airports, the level of security is higher now at the airports, and they are more strict nowadays after September 11 and terror activities all over the world," he added. A Cairo-based tour operator said she was surprised to hear about the safety and security violations on Egyptian flights, attesting to "stringent" measures on flights departing from Cairo. Dalia Ziada, an Egypt-based blogger and frequent traveler to and from the country, said she tried to avoid traveling on Egyptian airlines due to what she called low quality service, but said their security was good. "I can see that Egypt is fostering great security measures on all planes in and out of Egypt," she told The Media Line. "The procedures Egyptian security forces follow in the airport are great. I'm in the US now, and I was surprised, because security procedures I went through before leaving Egypt were much harder than the same procedures to get into the US This makes me feel secure, of course." Egypt has good reason to be concerned about attacks against tourist destinations and foreigners. Sixty two tourists of varying nationalities were killed by Islamic terrorists in an attack at Luxor, one of Egypt's top tourist attractions, in 1997. More than 140 people were killed in separate terror attacks that hit tourist resorts in the Sinai Peninsula in 2004, 2005, and 2006 and other attacks have hit tourists in the capital, Cairo. Tourist groups traveling outside of Cairo are frequently accompanied by armed guards. Kelenjian said he was not aware of specific concerns voiced by potential travelers as a result of the recent security problems, and he said that generally Egypt had a good reputation when it came to aviation security. The recent safety breach concerned a lizard, measuring 30 centimeters (or one foot) found aboard a flight heading for Abu Dhabi. The lizard was originally reported as being a baby crocodile, because of its resemblance to the carnivorous reptile, and caused significant alarm for the passengers. It had apparently escaped from the luggage of one of the passengers and wreaked havoc as it wriggled its way down the cabin until it was seized by one of the crew members. The passengers were questioned about the animal but no one admitted to taking it on board. Egypt Air officials suggested the creature could have been stored in the cargo hold and wriggled free. The lizard scare was just one in a series of security and safety blunders on Egyptian aircraft over the past month. In a separate incident, a package with explosive material was found on board a plane on July 5 at Luxor Airport, 720 kilometers (450 miles) south of Cairo, but the details of the case were only made public last week. The flight departed from Cairo for Luxor, a major tourist destination, with 72 passengers on board. It was unclear whether the package was a failed terror attack or a safety breach. A security officer at Luxor airport noticed a cardboard box on board the plane, which had apparently been checked in without any identifying tags on it and could not be traced to any of the passengers. The box was opened and inside were five inflammable gas cylinders.