U.S. Air Force F15 jet fighters escorted Egyptian aircraft carrying wounded from Malta to Egypt after the storming of a hijacked airliner last month, administration officials said yesterday in disclosing additional U.S. involvement in the operation.
The F15s were returned to their European base after an uneventful escort run, officials said.
The Egyptians expressed concern throughout the hijacking crisis about Libya taking hostile action, officials said.
While the Air Force would not disclose the home base of F15s used for the escort or how many were involved, the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg, West Germany, would be the logical source of the long-range fighters.
The jets could have been routed to Malta through North Atlantic Treaty Organization bases closer to the scene or refueled in midair to avoid landing on the way to the rendezvous point.
While disclosing Air Force participation in Egypt's assault operation, administration officials denied published reports that Navy F18 fighters from the carrier USS Coral Sea escorted the C130 transport that took Egyptian commandos to Valletta, Malta, where they stormed the hijacked Egyptian airliner.
F18 fighters from the Coral Sea did fly to Sigonella, Sicily, but did not go beyond the Navy field there to escort the C130.
The Coral Sea was in the eastern Mediterranean, and its air wing went on the alert in case its planes were needed, Navy officials said. However, they added that the ship's fighter jets did not go into action during the hijacking and Egyptian assault.
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told associates at the Pentagon after the assault that the United States had decided to help Egypt in any way possible during the crisis.
Anti-terrorist equipment, such as listening devices to determine the location of hijackers inside the airliner, were on the way to Malta but did not get beyond Sigonella, officials said.
An anti-terrorist element of the U.S. special Delta Force also reached Sigonella but went no farther because of difficulties in obtaining aircraft that the Maltese government would allow to land at Valletta, government officials said.