Comeback kidComeback kid

Plane turns back to get cancer patient

11-year-old was heading to camp in NY when she was removed from El Al flight after losing passport; document found at last minute

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Inbar Chomsky (photo credit: Chai Lifeline, Chai Simcha)
Inbar Chomsky (photo credit: Chai Lifeline, Chai Simcha)

An El Al flight heading from Tel Aviv to New York City returned to its gate to pick up an 11-year old cancer patient who had been taken off the plane when she couldn’t find her passport.

Thirty Israeli children battling cancer were headed to Camp Simcha, a summer camp for young patients in Glen Spey, New York. El Al has partnered with Chai Lifeline, which runs the camp, for the past 20 years to bring such children to the US.

According to Rabbi Yaakov Pinsky, director of Chaiyanu, Chai Lifeline’s Israel branch, the children went through a pre-flight medical examination and took their seats. The senior staff member began collecting passports, and after counting, realized one was missing.

It belonged to 11-year old Inbar Chomsky of Rehovot.

“No one could find Inbar’s passport,” Pinsky wrote in The Yeshiva World News. “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.

“Time was passing fast and the flight needed to depart. Still no passport was found. The ground crew entered the plane and searched frantically for Inbar’s 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.”

El Al planes at Ben-Gurion Airport (photo credit: Shay Levi/Flash90)
El Al planes at Ben-Gurion Airport (photo credit: Shay Levi/Flash90)

“Everyone was in shock, no one knew what to do,” said Elad Maimon, program coordinator of the Israeli branch of Chaiyanu, according to Haaretz. “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.”

The plane almost reached the runway when the call went out that Inbar’s passport had been found in another child’s backpack. The flight attendants immediately told the pilots, who spent the next 15 minutes calling the control tower, ground crew, and El Al’s offices.

The plane sat for a half hour, as the pilots awaited a decision.

Finally, they turned the plane around, and drove back to the terminal to pick up young Inbar.

“Her dream came true!” wrote Pinsky. ”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.”

“Planes rarely return to the gate after departing,” said El Al in a statement. “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.”

According to its website, Camp Simcha offers young patients aged 5 – 20 a chance to enjoy a normal camp experience and take their minds off their illness. “They can share their hopes, fears and triumphs with friends, or just forget about illness for a while.”

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