A French air force pilot was within 10 minutes of ejection yesterday after his Mirage F1 aircraft developed a hydraulic problem, French Ambassador Daniel Rondeau told The Sunday Times.

The aircraft just managed to fly to Malta where it landed at 2.20 p.m. along with another aircraft. The plane is still here and technicians arrived from France overnight to repair it. The second aircraft is due to leave today.

“It was a serious problem. If the plane did not land immediately, the pilot would have been obliged to eject within 10 minutes,” M. Rondeau said.

The first plane landed on the edge of the runway on the side of Ħal-Far, watched by a crowd of more than 100 onlookers. Fire and rescue vehicles were also on standby.

M. Rondeau, who greeted the pilots at the Malta International Airport,said the pilots were impressed by the immediate and positive reaction they received from Maltese officials working in air traffic control.

“They did all they could,” Mr Rondeau said, thanking the Maltese authorities for being so welcoming once again.

Although Malta has said it would not act as a military base in Nato’s attacks on Libya, it is by law expected to allow landings in case of an emergency.

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