An El Al plane heading from Tel Aviv to New York City made the unusual move of returning to the gate to pick up an 11-year-old cancer patient after she was earlier removed from the aircraft for having lost her passport.
The rabbi who organized trip earlier this month called the event “one of the most incredible stories regarding El Al that I have ever come across in my life.”
Inbar Chomsky, an Israeli girl, was one of 30 children flying to the U.S. to take part in Camp Simcha, a summer camp in Glen Spey, New York for children with serious illnesses run by Chai Lifeline.
Rabbi Yaakov Pinsky, director of Chaiyanu/Chai Lifeline Israel, who was traveling with the group, explained that after everyone was checked in the medical staff gave the kids their last pre-flight exam after which they were seated on the plane. A staffer collected the passports, but was shocked to discover that one was missing.
“No one could find Inbar’s passport. Our staff looked high and low, in and under every seat and seat pocket. No passport was found. The flight attendants immediately called the ground crew to help them locate the lost passport. The airport was alerted, and they too searched everywhere from the boarding gate to the El Al aircraft,” Rabbi Pinsky wrote on the website The Yeshiva World News.
As the clock was ticking to take-off time, the passport wasn’t found. The ground crew boarded and “searched frantically” for the passport.
“After 25 minutes of pulling apart the aircraft, the crew admitted defeat. El Al had no choice but to tell Inbar that she could not fly. El Al sadly called her mother to tell her that Inbar’s passport was lost and that the girl, who had been fighting illness so valiantly, would not be able to fly to Camp Simcha,” Pinsky explained.
Camp Simcha prides itself in hosting 430 seriously ill children every summer, providing an opportunity for them to briefly forget about their illnesses and “trade hospital rooms and doctors’ offices for summers of fun, friendship and hope.”
As the reality that the passport was truly lost set in, Rabbi Pinsky wrote that “the mood on the plane went from dismay at the inconvenience to sadness and shock that Inbar was losing her chance for a vacation from illness. It was terrible to experience.”
“It wasn’t enough that she has cancer, but now Inbar was facing another horrible disappointment in her life. The flight attendants were crying as they escorted Inbar off the plane. The doors shut, and the plane left the gate,” he wrote.
Elad Maimon, program coordinator for the Israeli branch of Chaiyanu, told Haaretz, “Everyone was in shock, no one knew what to do.”
“Taking a little girl off a flight is unheard of, and especially when that girl is sick and has already endured enough hardship. The airline personnel had tears in their eyes. They approached Inbar in the terminal. They bought her water, cried with her,” Maimon said.
As the plane made its way toward the runway, one of the group’s escorts shouted that she found Inbar’s passport in another child’s backpack. The flight crew began to furiously work the phones, calling El Al ground staff and Ben Gurion Airport authorities to get permission to turn back.
“It seems so hopeless. It really looked like Inbar was in for another disappointment,” wrote Pinsky, but then after 15 minutes of phone calls and a further delay of half an hour, “El Al did the unthinkable and unprecedented: the plane returned to the gate to pick up this 11-year-old girl with cancer and take her to Camp Simcha.”
“Inbar couldn’t believe it. Her dream came true! Those of us on the plane experienced something as well. Instead of the hostility that usually greets a plane delay, there were cheers and tears on that El Al plane, flight 007. Passengers and crew shared Inbar’s happiness and excitement,” Pinsky wrote.
“Today was one of the greatest moments I have ever experienced! There are no words that can describe the heartfelt gratitude and appreciation we have to El Al and the Ben Gurion Airport authorities. They have performed a miracle for some very special people today. It was an event for the history books, and everyone on that plane will be forever touched by El Al’s determination to accompany Inbar to the US,” he concluded.
El Al released this statement according to the Times of Israel: “Planes rarely return to the gate after departing. The plane was on its way to the runway, when the passport was found on the plane. After consulting with El Al crew on the plane and El Al staff at the airport the decision was made and the plane returned to pick up Inbar. El Al was honored and proud to help Inbar’s dream to go to the camp in the USA come true. We wish Inbar full recovery and health.”
(H/T: Times of Israel)