Saudis Detain 28 Persons with Israeli Passports for Nearly 24 Hours Aboard a Pan Am Plane

Twenty-eight persons with Israeli passports or Israeli stamps in their passports were detained aboard a Pan Am airplane in Saudi Arabia for nearly 24 hours July 28 and 29 when the plane was forced to land there due to engine failure, according to a spokesperson for the airline.

Ann Whyte of Pan Am confirmed an anonymous telephone call received by the Jewish Exponent last Wednesday from someone who was reportedly in Saudi Arabia when the incident occurred.

According to Whyte, Pan Am Flight 66, which left New York on the night of July 27 en route to New Delhi, had stopped in Frankfurt and Vienna before being forced to land in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the next day, 8:55 p.m. Saudi time. The Boeing 747 was carrying 379 passengers when it left Vienna. Whyte said Pan Am looked after those remaining on the plane. The airline also contacted the State Department.

On July 29 at 8:20 a.m., Saudi time, a relief aircraft from London carried all passengers to New Delhi, according to Whyte. A State Department official told the Exponent that under Saudi Arabian law, persons holding visas for Israel are not permitted to land in Saudi Arabia. She said the detainees were kept aboard the plane for “only several hours,” not for 24 hours, as the airline reported.

NOT AN ISOLATED INCIDENT

The person at the State Department said the incident was merely a case where “a local official did what local officials do,” and this type of situation happens more often than is reported. Dhahran, on the Persian Gulf, is about 250 miles from the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Since nobody on the plane had Saudi visas, the State Department official said, local officials had to obtain waivers from Riyadh in order for any passengers to deplane. When this was accomplished, the passengers were allowed to enter the terminal. The State Department said all passengers were accorded this privilege.

The anonymous caller indicated the detainees had been held aboard the plane for six hours and had then been permitted into an airport lounge area. Whyte, however, said those passengers connected to Israel were only permitted to leave the airliner to board the relief plane.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington was unaware of the incident, according to Oded Ben-Haim, Israel Consul in Philadelphia. However, he said, it was “not a new phenomenon.” Ben-Haim said he recalled similar incidents in Saudi Arabia and Jordan a few years ago. Joann Sloane, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Agency, said the FAA is usually informed of these incidents, but was unaware of this particular one.

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