Twenty Israeli flight passengers experienced a scare on Monday when the pilot announced what no Israeli wants to hear: that they were making an emergency landing in Iran.
It happened after a passenger on their Turkish Airlines flight fell ill, prompting their pilot to land two hours short of their intended destination of Mumbai, India.
“A terrifying drama,” Israel’s Ynet news characterized the situation. The newspaper said that “for the Israelis onboard, time ground to a halt.”
The Times of Israel described it as a “tense incident.”
“At first I was very concerned, I was scared to death,” one of the Israeli passengers on the flight, which had left from Istanbul, told Ynet. “But they were very nice to me and even invited me to visit Tehran again. I told them, ‘Let’s make peace, I invite you to come to Jerusalem’.”
The Times of Israel reported that the unidentified passenger, who was not Israeli, suffered a heart attack.
Benny Yekutiel, one of the Israeli passengers, downplayed the stress of the experience to Israel’s Channel 10 News on Tuesday, saying, “Two hours before we were supposed to land in India, they announced that someone on the plane wasn’t feeling well. It did a small U-turn and landed [in Iran].”
“When we landed it may have looked like a godforsaken place and the surrounding facilities reminded me of the ’60s, but we weren’t stressed out,” Yekutiel said according to quotes posted by the Israeli website Globes.
An Iranian ground crew and paramedic boarded the plane but quickly left, and no passports were checked. All in all, he said, they were on the ground in Iran for two hours.
“I think all the anxiety is exaggerated,” Yekutiel added.
Israeli airlines do not fly over Iranian airspace, though some Israelis choose to fly foreign airlines that take a more direct route to east Asia thus cutting travel time. The Israel Defense Forces prohibits its staff from flying in any aircraft that enters the airspace of enemy states.