The captain of an El Al flight from New York's JFK Airport to Israel, which was diverted to Athens to avoid desecrating the Shabbat, asked air traffic control to let him take off as soon as possible so his passengers stop "making problems," recordings of the radio communications at the airport show.
The flight was delayed due to a snowstorm, which led to many flight cancellations.
The captain can be heard trying to explain to the flight controller that he still did not know if he could take off, and it seems the situation caused great confusion even inside the cockpit.
"We have problems with some passengers, we will get updates in 1-2 minutes," the captain says to the air traffic controller. He asks to wait a few minutes on the runway so that he could check "if we can continue to take off or (have to) go back to the gate."
The captain thanks the tower for allowing him to wait near the runway and said: "We (would) appreciate (being able) to depart as soon as possible, otherwise the passengers will continue making problems."
A few minutes later, the Jumbo 747 took off on its way to Ben-Gurion Airport, but because of Shabbat, was diverted to Athens.
A passenger who was on the flight wrote a post on Facebook detailing the aggressive behavior of some of the passengers.
"Six hours into the flight, I heard shouting and saw a flight attendant crying after a passenger threatened her, pushed her and threatened to break into the cockpit, all this so as not to violate Shabbat," wrote Roni Meital. "I found myself standing and protecting weeping flight attendants… It seems that Shabbat observance is greater than 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"
On Monday, El Al CEO Gonen Ussishkin established an inquiry committee to investigate the incident. "In order to draw conclusions, and especially, to avoid a recurrence of such events, I decided to set up a committee of inquiry to investigate all the events that occurred during flight 002 and all the testimonies and claims," Ussishkin wrote in a statement. "The committee will submit its conclusions and recommendations as soon as possible, and then I will make decisions on the matter."
"We find ourselves in the midst of a polarizing discourse and a mutual exchange of accusations. This is contrary to our principles and values as citizens of the state and as the national carrier, which has the flag of Israel on the tail of its planes," the CEO added.
There were 70 ultra-Orthodox passengers on the flight, some of whom behaved in a disorderly manner before the plane took-off, demanding to be allowed to disembark. "The flight team tried unsuccessfully to seat them and promised that we would arrive between an hour and an hour and-a-half before Shabbat," wrote Meital.
"Despite that, the group of religious people continued with their unruly, uncurbed behavior and the takeoff was delayed as a result. After about an hour, they agreed to sit down and we took off," she continued.