TEL AVIV (Jan. 7)
Israel’s transport minister is awaiting a report from the Shin Bet domestic security agency on how a man managed to enter a guarded area of Ben-Gurion Airport and stow himself away aboard an El Al plane bound for Nairobi, Kenya.
The incident, regarded as a serious breach of both airport security and airline discipline, has caused major consternation at both Ben-Gurion and El Al, which are generally regarded as having among the tightest security in the airline industry.
The stowaway was David Soliman, a 27-year-old man who claims to be a free-lance journalist. He wrote about his experience in an article he sold to the daily Ma’ariv.
Soliman said he had wanted to gather copy for a news story on security breaches at the airport. He claims he had not thought to board a plane and fly off until he was actually aboard the aircraft.
Although he does not say so in his published story, airport personnel claim he had dressed in a dark suit similar to that worn by clerks and security personnel, with a “Security” label pinned to his lapel.
Soliman claims he walked straight through a guarded gate to the airfield at about 9 p.m. on Sunday without challenge from gate guards, and then wandered about the planes parked in front of the terminal.
When he noticed passengers boarding an El Al plane, he got on the end of the line.
“As the ground hostesses were checking the boarding cards of the last passengers, I tapped the last man on the shoulder, said “Excuse me” and climbed the steps, pushing my way into the plane, as though I was on duty.”
He sat down in an empty seat, after apparently hiding his “Security” tag, and the plane took off.
He said he had not known the destination of his flight until the pilot made his welcome announcement to Nairobi.
Solimon says he waited about half an hour before giving himself up to an air hostess.
He wanted “to give the pilot time to settle down into the flight, and to afford him sufficient time to recover from the shock before having to land the plane,” he said.
The stowaway was questioned by the captain during the flight, and again by El Al security and Kenyan security in Nairobi.
He was escorted back to Israel on the return flight. He was again interrogated when he returned to Ben-Gurion Airport, charged by the police and released on bail pending further investigation.