A taxiing plane returned to the gate at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport after photos of aviation disasters popped up on passengers’ phones – sent, Israeli authorities believe, by nine people onboard using the iPhone AirDrop function.
The incident happened shortly before the AnadoluJet passenger plane was readying for takeoff for Istanbul, the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) said.
The nine suspects, described by police as Israeli citizens, could be prosecuted for disseminating false information, the IAA said. The offense carries a maximum three-year prison term in Israel.
“The nine … are suspected of broadcasting images of an air disaster on the plane, causing panic and delaying the plane’s departure by several hours,” the police said in a statement.
“All nine suspects are being questioned by police,” they said, adding that the offense could be interpreted as a “terrorist threat”.
Passengers alarmed by the images informed the flight crew, and the pilot made the right call in heading back to the gate, an IAA spokesperson, Ofer Lefler, said.
“One woman fainted, another had a panic attack,” a passenger identified only as Diana told Israel’s Channel 12.
The IAA said those detained had been removed from the flight, which was able to depart about four hours later.
Tuesday’s incident is the second such scare within weeks at the airport. On 28 April, airport security staff found an unexploded shell in the luggage of an American family who had taken it as a souvenir while on holiday in Israel.
The discovery caused panic in the departures hall, and people were seen taking cover and running in all directions in videos shared on social media. The family was allowed to board their flight as planned.