JERUSALEM, Israel - The crew of an El Al 777 passenger jet returned to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport after discovering a problem with the airliner's wheel on the left-hand side.
More than 270 passengers were on board the airliner, which left Israel just before 2:00 a.m. en route to New Jersey's Newark Airport. After reporting the problem, the pilots were ordered to return for an emergency landing at Ben Gurion.
More than 70 ambulances and 20 fire engines, joined by large numbers of police, were dispatched to the airport.
"The pilot announced we were waiting for the light of day to land safely," said Itzik Zinger, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported. "For several hours we flew in circles over the water. The pilot released large quantities of fuel [over the Mediterranean], he said."
"When we were told we would be landing, we could already see all kinds of rescue vehicles at the airport. The oxygen masks did not drop, but we were told to sit with our heads between our legs and prepare for an emergency landing," he said.
"At the end of it all, when we landed, everyone was happy and grateful that it ended as it did. But we went through several fearful hours," he said.
The captain of the flight, Dudi Kent, told Army Radio the crew prepared for every possible eventuality.
"We had enough fuel that we weren't rushing, and as we flew over the sea, we prepared for every scenario, including the worst in which the wheel collapses during landing," Kent said.
"In the end, we decided to land during the light of day in order to assemble emergency services in case there was a need," he said.
"Even in the case the wheel wouldn't work, it's possible to land on only two wheels," the captain said. "Surely it's not a nice feeling, but it doesn't make it dangerous. Kent said the passengers remained calm and many "slept until the landing."
Investigators are checking into the possibility that the problem may have been a faulty warning light rather than in the wheel itself.