Military plane evacuates 199 Dutch from Israel while airport was under fire

October 12, 2023  –TEL AVIV – A military plane repatriated 199 Dutch people from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. The plane could not land immediately. On approach, air traffic control steered the plane away because the airport was under fire. Passengers told how they had to lie on the ground at and near the airport. Israeli defenses averted the danger. 

The Defense plane landed at the military air base in Eindhoven at 10:10 p.m. with the 199 Dutch on board. They are men, women, and children, including 28 pupils from the 4VWO and their four teachers from Rotterdam and Gouda. 

Co-pilot Cris van Dijk said after landing in Eindhoven that the aircraft had to seek safer and higher airspace “due to military events” until the situation was safe. Ultimately, the pilots landed the plane safely. But, it took almost 2.5 hours before all the people selected by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy were on board, Van Dijk said. 

He said the passengers were tense and traumatized. It was very quiet on board when the plane departed. The tension remained the entire time the plane flew in Israeli airspace. Only when the course was set for Greece did the passengers relax. “There was singing; people were happy,” said Van Dijk. “It’s behind us.” 

He only heard on Tuesday evening that he had to fly to Tel Aviv and was only briefed on Wednesday morning. “It was a stressful mission, but in the end, it all went quite smoothly.” 

Among the evacuees were Royston and Lydia Smith (56 and 54 years old) from Ugchelen near Apeldoorn. Their holiday turned out very differently than hoped. “On the way to the airport, we had to lie on the ground along the highway because of rocket attacks. And the same at the airport. We heard dull explosions in the air, mainly from the Israeli anti-aircraft defense. Once at our hotel in Tel Aviv, we had to go into the safe room due to air raids. The plane couldn’t land immediately this morning. We saw rockets being fired from Lebanon. We lay on the ground; people were crying, the dull bangs of anti-aircraft guns everywhere.” 

“We were in Jerusalem when the violence broke out. We fled into an air raid shelter, which had been transformed into a synagogue. Not only the Sabbath but also the Jewish festival Simchat Torah was celebrated there. Bizarre!” 

The plane used for the evacuation was an Airbus A330 from the Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport (MRTT) Unit, which is stationed at Eindhoven Air Base. The aircraft can accommodate 267 passengers and 45 tons of cargo. The reason why there were not more passengers on the plane was that it was impossible to refuel in Tel Aviv, a Foreign Affairs spokesperson explained. “We couldn’t take more than these 199 people because of the weight,” he said. 

After the plane landed, the passengers walked to the hall where they could pick up their suitcases. On the way from the plane, they waved to the people waiting for them inside. Many passengers looked tired but happy and relieved. Some couldn’t hold back their tears. The passengers were of all ages, from very young to elderly. Children in buggies, in baby carriers, on daddy’s shoulders, in mommy’s arms, or on a rolling toy suitcase, looking around in amazement. A man with a dog on a leash. An older man leaning on a walking stick. 

In the arrivals hall, hundreds of family members and friends greeted the passengers with applause. People stood on chairs to spot their relatives. The reunions were often very emotional. 

The over 20 students and three teachers from the Ede Christian College who were stuck in Israel also returned by military plane. Leiden University reports that five of its students who were in Israel have also returned home. For privacy reasons, the university did not say whether the students were on the Defense aircraft. 

On Thursday, Defense will send another aircraft to Tel Aviv to pick up a second group of Dutch people. 

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