Montana’s KULR-8 reported that an El Al Boeing 777 landed unexpectedly in Billings Logan International (Montana) airport, when the pilot of the Tel Aviv to Los Angeles flight was worried about an indicator light that flashed that there might be a fire in one of the engines. With 279 passengers and 20 crewmembers aboard, the majority of them identifying as Jewish, the Jewish population of Montana was temporarily increased by nearly 30%.
While on the ground from about 6AM to 6PM last Sunday, the crew scored some hotel rooms, and the passengers were given some quaranteed or “sequestered” (as the Billings Gazette said) sitting space in the airport.
Billings (population 109,000) does not have scheduled international Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to process passengers from international arrivals, so the El Al passengers could not enter leave the airport. CBP agents are located 240 miles away in Great Falls. El Al flew another jet in from Newark to pick up the passengers of Flight 5
The Gazette newspaper photographer Larry Mayer, who was in the terminal photographing the news story, saw the need of passengers who observe kashrut. He called former Gazette reporter Donna Healy, a member of Congregation Beth Aaron. Healy, her daughter, Kathleen Healy, Lillika Van Dyken, Victor Sargent, and others quickly delivered fruit and other kosher foods to the stranded travelers. The Billings folks also brought baby diapers.
Donna’s synagogue, Beth Aaron, a Reform Community tapped into its emergency fund, and also delivered toiletries, deoderant, and other items for the El Al passengers. “You just don’t often get a planeload of Israelis in Billings, and we thought we should do what we could to make them comfortable, and kosher food is a part of that,” she told the Gazette.
Also, Chavie Bruk, the wife of the leader of Chabad of Montana, located in Bozeman (pop 35,000), and some of her children, drove two hours to Billings to deliver kosher food items, bagels, coldcuts and more to the passengers.
“We apologize for the inconvenience,” an El Al spokesperson said in a statement. “El Al views safety as our highest value, and does not compromise on even the slightest concern.”
Mechanics arrived from Newark, and the El Al 777 left after it was checked, sans passengers. Kevin Ploehn, acting director of aviation and transit, told the Missoulian that mechanics arrived on the second airplane from Newark. They spent Monday working on the right engine and replaced a few parts including fire extinguishers the pilot deployed as a precaution before landing in Billings. He added, “If there was a fire it was very small and centralized. “We don’t have all the details on that but (the mechanics) made it airworthy and took off yesterday.”