A Dutch military aircraft, tasked with the repatriation of Dutch citizens, faced unexpected challenges when attempting to land at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport (TLV).
On its approach, the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) was abruptly diverted by air traffic control (ATC) due to incoming fire at the airport.
Passengers recounted the terrifying moment when they were instructed to lie on the ground while Israeli defenses worked to neutralize the threat.
“On the way to the airport, we had to lie on the ground along the highway because of rocket attacks,” passengers told NL Times. “And the same at the airport. We heard dull explosions in the air, mainly from the Israeli anti-aircraft defense.”
The A330 continued circling for some time but eventually managed to land at TLV and safely evacuate 199 Dutch nationals, including 28 students and their teachers from Rotterdam and Gouda. The aircraft arrived at the military air base in Eindhoven at 10:10 pm local time.
The MRTT can usually accommodate 267 passengers and 45 tons of cargo.
The lack of additional passengers was due to the inability to refuel in Tel Aviv, according to a Dutch Foreign Affairs spokesperson.
“We couldn’t take more than 199 people because of the weight,” he was quoted as saying in an De Telegraaf article.
The defense aircraft is scheduled to perform another flight to Tel Aviv on October 12, 2023, where it will pick up a second group of Dutch citizens.
While the military flight successfully evacuated citizens, KLM, the Dutch flag carrier, was forced to make a difficult decision.
Initially, the airline planned to help the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in repatriating Dutch nationals. However, after reviewing the ground situation and the military flight incident, KLM opted against conducting a repatriation flight, citing safety concerns for both passengers and crew.
The airline conveyed its regret, acknowledging the eagerness of many passengers to get home, but said it was prioritizing safety.