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Some 400 El Al passengers had to wait for almost seven hours in a grounded airplane in a U.S. airport due to a fuel leak, Haaretz learned Monday.

Throughout these hours passengers were not permitted to leave the aircraft and received no food except drinks and light snacks.

The grounded Boeing 747-400 - El Al flight LY028 - was scheduled to take off at 1:30 P.M. on December 16 from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and land about 10 hours later at Ben-Gurion Airport.

The airline did not report the incident to the media.

"I was one of the first passengers on board at 12:45 P.M.," Rinat Rosen, one of the passengers on the flight, told Haaretz.

"As soon as I sat down, I noticed, as did other passengers, that something was leaking - in large amounts - from the wing. We alerted the flight crew and they said they'd check it out. Passengers continued boarding until everyone was on and routine preparations for take off were underway, but the leak continued," she said.

"At 1:30 P.M., the scheduled take off time, the captain announced there was some problem with a fuel leak from the wing, it was being looked into and at that moment it was not clear when we would take off. When they'd have more information they'd let us know," Rosen said. "We heard nothing more until 3 P.M., when the captain announced they still didn't know what had caused the problem and would soon decide whether to take the passengers off the plane. During all this time the fuel continued to drip from the wing. Cleaning crews were wiping it up to prevent it from spreading," she said.

No leaving the airplane

"At 5 P.M. the captain said the problem had been found, all possible efforts were being made to fix it and we would probably take off soon. Many passengers had already asked to get off the plane, including myself, but we were told the problem was almost fixed and whoever got off would not be allowed to board again. I couldn't decide what to do, as I was sitting in a very crowded place and was extremely hungry by then. They had given us nothing to eat but crackers and drinks. They promised me that we were taking off any minute and then meals would be served. An hour and a half later we were still on the ground and had heard nothing from the captain," Rosen said.

"I asked to get off the plane but the chief cabin attendant told me they had already locked the doors and it was impossible to get off. I asked in tears to open the doors and let me out but they refused and told me to go back to my seat. At 7:30 P.M. we finally took off - about six hours after schedule. At 8:45 they served us a warm meal. It was a horrible ordeal - sitting in the plane surrounded by a pool of fuel, not to mention the discomfort of sitting for seven hours in a plane before a 10-hour flight," she said.

'Logistical difficulties'

El Al issued a response to the passenger's complaints.

"El Al flight LY028 from Newark to Tel Aviv had a fuel leak. The local crew failed to fix the leak and brought in an El Al technician who solved the problem and the flight took off. As a result of difficult weather conditions and logistic difficulties at the airport that did not depend on El Al the airline had to leave the passengers on board. Throughout the waiting period the crew members took care of the passengers. The flight took off after a five-hour delay."