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Matt Nash

The curious case of flight SYR602

A SyrianAir flight not listed on the departures board may regularly leave for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

SyrianAir

Every other day for at least the past month, SyrianAir flight number 602 departs from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the middle of the night. It’s not listed on the airport’s departures board, nor could any of the half-dozen travel agents that NOW contacted book an interested passenger a seat.

 

In fact, only SyrianAir’s representative in Beirut could find a record that the flight existed. Other travel agents were simply stumped.

 

“I’m sorry, sir, there is no flight 602.”

 

“But I see it,” NOW kept replying.

 

NOW first noticed the flight on the website Flightradar24.com (call sign SYR602). According to the “how it works” section of the webpage, the site’s operators have “a network of about 500 ADS-B receivers around the world that receives plane and flight information from aircrafts with ADS-B transponders. [It then] sends this information to a server and displays this information on a map” posted to Flightradar24.com.

 

Asked about the accuracy of the site’s information, an employee who only identified himself as Mike told NOW in an email exchange: “if it shows up in Jeddah, it has been there.”

 

The flight’s destination is unknown, but NOW has repeatedly monitored (on the webpage) the plane travel north over Saudi Arabia before disappearing near the Jordanian border. Flightradar24.com’s FAQ section explains that “in most cases, the reason [a flight seems to disappear] is that the coverage from the surrounding receivers has been lost. It can also be a technical problem somewhere.”

 

To find out more, NOW contacted the General Authority of Civil Aviation in Saudi Arabia last month. Spokesman Khaled Diabry at first was very helpful when NOW asked for details about the flight. Diabry took the flight number but said he could find no record of the flight.

 

He said he would check with the airport and asked NOW to call back. He has since stopped answering his phone, and NOW has been repeatedly told that he is simply unavailable.

 

Yaser al-Yousef, SyrianAir’s regional manager in Saudi Arabia, responded to our email inquiries. He told NOW that “yes,” SYR602 is a regular commercial flight. Asked why it never shows up on the departures board, Yousef said: “Because [it’s an] umrah flight,” which he later clarified to mean a flight specifically for pilgrims visiting Mecca outside of the hajj season.

 

Pressed on why a normal commercial flight would not be registered on the departures board, Yousef said, “I don’t have more [information].” He referred NOW to SyrianAir’s Damascus office, which has neither returned our emails nor answered the phone.

 

Travel agents in both the UK and Beirut – who could find no record of the flight and asked not to be named – told NOW that typically when a flight is unlisted, it has been privately chartered. Agents could book NOW a ticket on other flights out of Jeddah operated by SyrianAir, but repeatedly said they found no record of flight 602.

 

In a final attempt for more information, NOW contacted the SyrianAir office in Beirut in order to try booking a seat on the flight. NOW learned that commercial flights between Jeddah and Damascus are available in the afternoon, but the agent – who was uniquely able to find flight 602 in his database – could not book a seat for the flight's middle-of-the-night departure.

 

“It’s closed,” he said.

 

“Why,” NOW asked.

 

“I don’t know.”

 

Read this article in Arabic

A SyrianAir passenger plane in Latakia. The airline has been running a flight out of Jeddah but mysteriously does not list it on the departures board. (AFP Photo)

“‘I’m sorry, sir, there is no flight 602’.”

  • pvanpelt1

    The Syrian flight 602 is done with an Airbus with registration nr. YK-AKE. This same plane has been travelling a lot between Damascus and Baghdad as well as Al Najaf in Iraq. Those flights do not bring pilgrims to KSA.

    June 11, 2013

  • Popotissimo

    It is probably a chartered flight. As such, it arrives and departs as a private aircraft, not as a SyrianAir flight and for that reason it does not show up on the airport boards and cannot be booked through travel agents. With SyrianAir banned from flying to Europe, they probably rely on leasing their aircrafts as a way of generating some badly needed income. This is just my theory.

    June 10, 2013

  • Lubnan Awalan

    i did notice ,, flight of MEA arriving outbound to the Lebano/Syrian borders disappear on screen,,, do they stop squawking ??

    June 9, 2013

  • Lubnan Awalan

    It did show that flight on my mobile flightradar24 several times, without the departure airport or the destination ,, even discussed that with friends,, followed that flight saw it flying over Jordan and crossing the Syro/Jordanian borders ,, where few other airplanes are seen overflying that zone

    June 9, 2013

  • Metnman

    This is what they call a shaggy dog story http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaggy_dog_story

    June 9, 2013

  • fadi84

    creepy! especially if somethin fishy is goin on between ksa govt and syria..

    June 9, 2013

  • ibby.forleal

    I cannot find the airplane on Flightradar24.com

    June 8, 2013

  • lilywall53

    In the article it was mentioned that this flight may have been used for Umra, I doubt that is the case because pilgrims for Umra can go at any time , not just in the Hajj which has definite dates.

    June 8, 2013