Israeli Air Force fighter jets were scrambled early Monday morning as an El Al flight headed for Newark returned to Ben Gurion International Airport for an emergency landing, following a technical fault in one of its wheels.
A state of emergency was declared and 70 ambulances, 20 fire trucks and numerous police vehicles arrived at the airport ahead of the landing. The jets were scrambled to make sure the problem was purely technical.
The fault on flight 027 was discovered around 2:00 A.M., and the plane, carrying 276 passengers, circled above the sea and emptied its fuel tanks. At daybreak, the plane made the emergency landing.
According to El Al's CEO Eliezer Shkedi, "this was a malfunction that was handled professionally. The passengers were calm and acted commendably." He added: "At every stage the pilot informed us what was happening. We also consulted with authorities overseas in order to make a decision. There is no doubt that this event transported me back to my days at the Air Force command post, but when there is an experienced pilot it definitely helps."
Emergency services chief Eli Bin said, "At 2:20 A.M. we received a message about preparations for an emergency landing of an El Al plane. We don't have experience with this, so we sent dozens of ambulances and many paramedics and doctors in the event of a worse case scenario of 270 injured passengers."
Itzik Zinger, 36, a passenger on the plane, said, "As we waited to take off, there was a delay of one hour and they told us that there was some kind of technical problem that needs to be taken care of before takeoff. A few minutes after takeoff, they told us that there was a problem with one of the wheels, and that we would be returning to Tel Aviv.
"The pilot announced that we were waiting for the light of day to land safely," Zinger said. "For several hours we flew in circles over the water. The pilot released large quantities of fuel."
Zinger said that "People were very nervous. The El Al crew gave out food and tried to calm us down, but no one would eat, and it was very difficult to calm people down. Everyone was very nervous."
"When we were told that we would be landing, we could already see all kinds of rescue vehicles at the airport. The oxygen masks did not drop, but we were told to sit with our heads between our legs and prepare for an emergency landing," Zinger said.
"At the end of it all, when we landed, everyone was happy and was grateful that it ended as it did – but we went through several hours of fear, it was a difficult time."
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