Delta Flight 468: On the plane that turned around

Chaim Talmon was about an hour away from landing in Tel Aviv on July 22 when he noticed on the TV route map that the plane had turned around and was headed in the opposite direction.

He asked the steward if the system was broken. “You don’t feel when a plane turns around, it’s not like a car,” said Talmon, one of 273 passengers on Delta Flight 468, the Boeing 747 that was in the air over Greece when the news broke of a rocket landing near Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport.

The steward confirmed that the plane had turned around, but he didn’t know any further details.

“I guess I wasn’t the only one who noticed it because I noticed other people starting to ask him,” Talmon said.

About 15 minutes later, the captain came on the PA system and told the passengers that he received instruction not to land in Israel; they were headed to Paris, about six hours away.

His fellow passengers didn’t react too strongly to the news, Talmon said. “Nobody started to scream, nobody yelled. … It was like, OK, let’s see what happens. Everybody knew what was going on in Israel” and most of the people on the airplane were Israelis.

Talmon, who lives in Phoenix, was on his way to Israel to visit his daughters and their families. Before his trip, he and his wife, Carol, had collected art supplies, stuffed animals and an assortment of activities to deliver to a moshav in southern Israel, to provide children in bomb shelters with something to do. These donations, along with his personal items and gifts for his grandchildren, were distributed among a large suitcase, a duffel bag, a carry-on and a backpack. He shared his story with Jewish News via telephone on the evening he arrived in Israel. (He left Los Angeles at noon on Monday and arrived in Tel Aviv at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. “It was a little bit crazy,” he said.)

After the plane arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, the passengers were told to stand in line at the Air France desk to arrange a flight to Israel.

After a period of waiting in line, a representative of the airline came out to report that Air France wasn’t flying to Israel and that none of the European companies were flying to Israel.

The El Al flight leaving from Paris that day only had a handful of seats left so the passengers were given choices: Fly back to the United States or stay in Paris. They continued to wait in line to make their arrangements.

After standing in line for more than an hour, the line hadn’t moved.

Some people decided to return to the United States, but Talmon didn’t want to. “It’s another 14-hour flight,” he said. “I’m so close and I’m going on vacation. And if I go back to the States, who’s going to pay my way back to Israel?”

Around 7 p.m., his daughter called to tell him that she booked him a flight on British Airways and he had about an hour to get his luggage, pick up his ticket and go to the gate, which was on the other side of the airport.

At baggage claim, he found his suitcase but eventually had to stop looking for his duffel bag so he could catch his flight. “Time was ticking,” he said. “I couldn’t miss the flight.”

So, with his large suitcase, carry-on and backpack, he ran to the British Airlines gate. At this point, it was after 8 p.m. He checked in, and then had to go through security. It took a while – they were curious about all the art supplies – but he finally got through. Now it was about 9:50 p.m. and the plane was delayed a couple of times before changing gates; he took a train to the new gate.

Once they boarded the plane, there was a security check; the flight attendants took each piece of luggage out of the overhead bins and made sure that each one belonged to a passenger. After another group of people entered the plane, the whole process was repeated. “It took until the last minute until we were supposed to take off,” he said. The plane left at 1:30 a.m.

The plane arrived in Israel at 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday, July 23. “The airport was half-empty,” Talmon said. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had issued a 24-hour ban on planes flying to or from Israel; foreign airlines soon followed. Earlier today, the FAA extended its ban and the European Aviation Safety Agency “strongly” recommended that European airlines refrain from flying there; El Al and British Airways continued their flights.

As of 11:30 p.m. today, Israel time, when he spoke to Jewish News, Talmon hadn’t heard any sirens either near the airport nor at his daughter’s home near Netanya. He was still waiting to hear about the duffel bag.

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