I was sitting with my friend, separated from my aunt and my wife by the aisle. We were strapped in, we had taken off. The weather in London was horrific. The heavens had opened, but I didn't think anything of it. The captain said: 'Welcome to flight El Al 316. We wish you a pleasant flight.'
The explosion came about five minutes later. A gigantic flash of white light engulfed us. The plane shook so violently, I thought we'd been hit by a missile. To my right, a stewardess crouched down in the aisle with her hands above her head. My stomach was in my feet. There was this 'Oh my god, what's going on' sort of atmosphere. People were starting to whimper.
The pilot's voice broke the panic. He said we had been struck by lightning, but everything was absolutely fine. My tension disappeared in a split second. I mean, they say lightning never strikes twice, don't they?
Just over four hours later we came in to land on schedule at Ben Gurion airport. We were close enough to see the lights of the airport on the ground. We were waiting for the bump of the touchdown. But suddenly we zoomed up again at top speed. I thought: 'Something is very, very wrong.' The pilot's voice came over the loudspeaker. He said we had a 'slight problem'. The bolt of lightning earlier had blown the light which told him whether the landing gear was working. He had no idea if the wheels were down or not.
He was still incredibly calm when he said we were going to fly over the control tower so they could tell us if the gear was actually in place. There was still no trace of emotion when he announced that the control tower couldn't quite work it out and that they were sending a fighter plane to fly below us and check things out.
But minutes later something had changed. I could hear his voice shaking. He said the fighter plane could see our wheels were in place but they couldn't tell if they were locked and would stay there. He said: 'Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to have to prepare you for an emergency landing.'
Total silence on board. For the next half-hour, while we flew over the sea dumping fuel to try and stop the plane from blowing up when we landed, I didn't hear one passenger say a word. It was excruciating. The stewardess closest to me was smiling, but she had tears in her eyes. Another was taking long, deep breaths. I started to think a million things all at once. I thought: 'Thank god we're not with the kids.' I thought: 'I hope someone will take care of them.' I thought: 'Oh well, my business partners will get all the insurance money.' I pushed the words 'dead' and 'maimed' away.
Every crash landing I'd ever seen in movies flashed through my mind. But you don't really believe it until the stewardesses says: 'Please place your seat cushions in front of you. Lean forwards. Place your hands under your knees. Make sure the aisles are clear, and remove your shoes.' I think it was the bit about the shoes that really freaked me out. They pointed out our the nearest emergency exits. They told us to jump on to the chutes and get out of the plane as soon as we landed. It all happened in painful slow motion.
The man in front of me was old and fat. How was he going to jump on to the chute? Should I help him before I got out myself? I dared lift my head slightly from the crash landing position and look at my wife. She was looking at me. I just mouthed: 'Are you OK?'
I recited every prayer I could remember. But I kept forgetting the words half way through, so I'd have to start another one. The one which kept coming back was the Jewish prayer for the dead. I felt the stewardess put a hand on my shoulder.
The pilot said: 'Cabin crew to emergency landing positions.' I almost stopped breathing. Seconds later we landed like a butterfly on a leaf. It was only then that two children started to scream; high-pitched, piercing screams. I saw hundreds of red flashing ambulance and police lights chasing alongside the plane. It must have been a whole minute before people started clapping and cheering and crying.
I thought the emotion would come out the next day or the day after that. I waited and I waited. But it didn't. I was just very glad to be in one piece. Basically, I'm a fatalist. I think when your number's up your number's up. And mine wasn't.
It was different for my aunt. When someone asked her what it was like she burst into tears. And if my wife could have done, she would have come home by ship.Reuse content