Amid the coronavirus pandemic, an Air India special flight carrying 314 Israelis landed in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening with many relieved passengers holding the flags of India and Israel thanking the Indian national carrier and its crew for flying them back home in difficult circumstances. The Israeli embassy in New Delhi had requested help from the Ministry of External Affairs to evacuate the Israeli citizens.
Air India had operated similar rescue flights for Indians stuck in China, Italy, Iran and Spain. According to a senior airline official, the Boeing 777 aircraft departed from Delhi around 4 pm. Israel’s Ambassador in New Delhi, Mr. Ron Malka, was at the airport to see off the passengers and thanked Air India.
'I thank and appreciate the @airindiain flight staff who are responsibly and selflessly ensuring that Israelis get home safe. Dhanyavad from the bottom of our (heart in emoji) Mr. Malka tweeted before the flight took off. Air India’s country manager in Tel Aviv, Mr. Pankaj Tiwari, praised the entire team of 'ground staff, engineering personnel, catering staff and the crew who in such difficult circumstances rose to the occasion keeping aside their personal interests to make this flight a reality'.
'Whenever such a call is made, Air India will always be in the forefront and do their best to safely unite the passengers to their families' Mr. Tiwari said. India is on lockdown from March 25 to April 14 to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Consequently, domestic and international flights have been suspended too. However, cargo flights, special flights conducted with the approval of aviation regulator DGCA, offshore helicopter operations and medical evacuation flight operations have been exempted.
Air India used a Boeing 777 jet instead of the regular Dreamliner that operates on this route, in view of more than 300 passengers. The jet went back empty as it had come on a 'rescue' mission. Israel’s national carrier, El Al, had earlier organised two flights from Mumbai to bring back several hundred stranded Israelis.
There was a festive spirit among returning passengers both at the airport in Delhi while boarding and at the Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv after deplaning. Israel is under total lockdown with people not allowed to even walk beyond 100 metres from their homes and have been generally advised to go out only to stock up food.
The passengers went through check ups at the airport and would be in self quarantine or special supervision depending on their condition. The number of people infected by Coronavirus in Israel went up to 2666, with 8 casualties so far, official sources said.