Airline Commemorates Remarkable Rescue Mission of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews
New York, NY - May 24, 2011
- Memorial Day weekend marks the 20th anniversary of EL AL Israel Airlines'
major role in the dramatic airlift and rescue of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel, known as "Operation Solomon."
EL AL preparations took months for this important life-saving mission. In May of 1991, more than 300 EL AL ground workers, pilots and flight attendants worked around the clock as Israel's national airline assisted in lifting thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel from Addis Ababa.
Dubbed "Operation Solomon," one specially configured EL AL 747 Boeing aircraft carried 1,087 Ethiopians (almost three times the usual number of passengers), setting an international aviation record
. To maximize seating space on board, armrests were folded into backseats, which allowed six people to fill four seats. All three kitchens and three out of eight bathrooms were removed, and a total of 760 seats were installed. After the Ethiopians heard special announcements in the Amharic language that the aircraft was flying over Jerusalem, they began singing "Jerusalem of Gold." EL AL flight attendants assisted doctors with the deliveries of three babies who were born in the first class section of the plane
A select staff of 25 EL AL ground and operational employees flew into Addis Ababa prior to the dramatic rescue to coordinate flight operations. EL AL used three 747, four 767 and three 757 Boeing aircraft to help complete "Operation Solomon."
Danny Saadon, EL AL Vice President, North and Central America, was then the EL AL Manager of Operations at Ben Gurion Airport and reflects on the unforgettable experience, "When we landed at Addis Ababa Airport and I saw thousands of Ethiopian patiently waiting, I thought, 'How are we going to fly all of them to Israel in just 48 hours?' It was a short window of opportunity, but we ultimately successfully completed the operation in less than 36 hours."
In May of 1992, EL AL commemorated the one-year anniversary of "Operation Solomon" by hosting a special flight to nowhere from JFK International Airport for more than 400 New York area school children. The purpose of this flight was to teach children about this historical event and encourage them to examine their own commitment to helping others.
Operation Solomon is another example of EL AL's commitment to assist those in need and to provide Jewish immigrants from hostile countries with a chance for a new life in Israel. In fact, EL AL has made a pledge to the government of Israel that at any time of the day or night, EL AL will organize and operate a flight to carry immigrants to Israel from any place within 12 hours' notice.
For more information about EL AL, please visit the airline's recently redesigned website, www.elal.com
, or call 800-223-6700. More information can also be found on EL AL's blog, Skywords with EL AL
, as well as on Facebook (EL AL Israel Airlines USA)
and Twitter (@ELALUSA)