Saudi gets some unlikely visitors when a plane full of Israelis makes an emergency landing

The passengers spent night at an airport hotel in Jeddah and were flown back by the airline on an alternate plane: Israel's foreign ministry

By AP

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Passengers arriving from the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles that made an emergency stop in Saudi Arabia react upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday. — AP
Passengers arriving from the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles that made an emergency stop in Saudi Arabia react upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday. — AP

Published: Tue 29 Aug 2023, 11:06 PM

Last updated: Wed 30 Aug 2023, 1:39 PM

A plane carrying Israelis home from the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles made an emergency landing in Saudi Arabia before flying back to Tel Aviv on Tuesday, in what Israel praised as a sign of goodwill as Washington works to establish formal relations between the two countries.

The Air Seychelles flight carrying 128 passengers was forced to land on Monday because of an electrical malfunction. Israel's Foreign Ministry said the passengers spent the night at an airport hotel in Jeddah and were flown back by the airline on an alternate plane.


Passengers described a frightening stretch of time as an acrid burnt smell filled the cabin and the pilot came over the intercom to say the plane would be forced to make an emergency stop in Saudi Arabia, a kingdom with which Israel has no air links or diplomatic ties.

With dozens trapped on board and the plane idling on the tarmac, tension grew, passengers said, while Israeli officials scrambled to figure out what to do. Soon Saudi security forces escorted the Israelis to a hotel.


“It was very scary," passenger Mayama Stahl recalled as she streamed out of Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport later Tuesday with the dozens of others, some seemingly surprised by the swarm of reporters, photographers and party balloons that greeted them. “But we were all welcomed very well (by the Saudis). ... We were very excited to see that we were OK and safe.”

The passengers told The Associated Press their experience in Jeddah was pleasant, with some Saudis even greeting them in Hebrew.

Tracking data from FlightRadar24.com showed the Air Seychelles Airbus A320, flight No. HM22, diverted to Jeddah on Monday night while it was over the Red Sea. The airline did not respond to a request for comment.

Another Air Seychelles A320 flew to Jeddah on Tuesday from Dubai to pick up the travelers and carry them on to Tel Aviv. In 2022, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on Israeli overflights during a visit by President Joe Biden to the kingdom.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made an agreement with Saudi Arabia a major goal, seized on the incident to highlight the potential for improved ties.

“I greatly appreciate the warm attitude of the Saudi authorities to the Israeli passengers whose flight was in distress,” he said in a video recorded in Hebrew with Arabic subtitles, as he gestured toward a map of the region behind him. “I greatly appreciate the good neighborliness.”

There was no immediate reaction in Saudi Arabia.



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