El Al brings hundreds of stranded Israelis back from Melbourne in 17-hour flight

Flight, which according to some reports was longest in Israeli aviation history, carried some 280 passengers; crew of 19 included 8 pilots

An El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Flash90)
Illustrative: An El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Ben Gurion International Airport. (Flash90)

A special El Al flight from Melbourne landed at Ben Gurion Airport Friday morning with some 280 Israelis on board who had been stranded in Australia and New Zealand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

After 17 hours and 15 minutes in the air, it was, according to some reports, the longest direct flight in Israeli aviation history.

The flight from Tel Aviv to Melbourne lasted 16 hours and 15 minutes.

The entire operation took some 40 hours and was called by the Israel Hayom paper “the most challenging in the airline’s history.” The plane’s crew included eight pilots and 11 flight attendants, who never left the aircraft while in Australia.

In recent weeks, the Foreign Ministry has cooperated with various airlines and foreign governments to bring thousands of Israeli nationals back to the country.

The government on Wednesday introduced new rules that require all returnees from abroad to undergo a coronavirus test upon arrival and be quarantined at a designated facility for 14 days. It was not immediately clear if the travelers were taken to the isolation hotels.

“From the beginning of the coronavirus crisis the Foreign Ministry proved that it will make every effort to repatriate every Israeli who is interested in coming home,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Monday. “This is the central mission of our diplomats across the world, and of those who work in Israel.”

As of Tuesday, there were 2,151 Israeli tourists interested in returning home who were stuck abroad, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Israeli tourists on board a Bolivian military plane en route to Brazil, March 26, 2020. (courtesy)

Two flights from India and Thailand carrying hundreds of Israelis landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Monday.

Four El Al flights last month brought back some 1,100 Israelis from Peru, while several remaining backpackers who had originally not found room on the aircraft flew back via Germany and the Czech Republic last week.

Last week, Katz instructed his team to develop a “national emergency plan” to repatriate Israelis stuck abroad.

Previously, the Foreign Ministry in cooperation with El Al and two other Israeli airlines — Arkia and Israir — had organized nearly a dozen flights for Israelis stranded in Croatia, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Slovenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Australia.

Israeli officials continue to urge all Israelis who are abroad and want to come home to do so quickly while it is still possible.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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