Passengers on El Al flight 382, which made its way from Milan to Tel Aviv on Sunday, were panicked after the plane was hit by lightning. One of the passengers on that flight was non other than President Shimon Peres.
The Ma’ariv newspaper reported that approximately five minutes after the Boeing 737/800 plane took off from Italy, a huge explosion was heard and passengers who were sitting on the left side of the plane saw what looked like a huge ball of fire.
One of Peres’ employees who was on the flight told Ma’ariv that “there was hysteria on the plane. People began to scream. Peres’ security guards went into the cockpit. For the first few minutes we did not know what happened, if it was a terror attack, if someone had shot a missile at the plane, or if a bird had entered the engine.”
According to the report, some of the passengers on the flight did not feel well and one of them, who was on the verge of losing consciousness, had to be given oxygen. Peres’ paramedics helped take care of the frightened passengers and only a few minutes later did the captain announce to the passengers that lightning had hit the plane and that no damage was caused. The flight continued its course to Israel.
Peres, said the report, was not at all alarmed and read a newspaper the entire time. When he was asked by one of his employees if he is not afraid, he replied: “What do have I to fear? I’m in the hands of the world’s best pilots.”
Later on, the President rose from his chair, walked down the aisles and shook hands with the passengers. Before landing, Peres entered the cockpit, where he shook hands with the pilots and congratulated them personally.
“I salute you,” Peres was quoted as telling the captain. “If our fate was to be directly hit by lightning, I’m glad it happened on an El Al plane. There is nothing like Israeli pilots in times of crisis.”
Peres was returning from Italy, where he attended festivities celebrating 150 years of the country’s unification.
During his stay in Italy, Peres met Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and the two reportedly discussed the stalled Israel-PA diplomatic process and possible ways to revive negotiations.
Officials at the president’s office refused to reveal details of the Peres-Abbas meeting in hopes of keeping them away from the press - and Israeli public - and refused to confirm whether the two spoke alone, but diplomatic sources hinted that such conversation indeed took place.
While Israeli presidents fill a ceremonial, unifying role and are expected to refrain from involvement in political or partisan issues like the peace process, it was reported in April that Peres and Abbas have maintained contacts away from the limelight in which they continue to pursue back-channel talks.
The Peres-Abbas meeting came despite Abbas’ insistence that Israel agree to preconditions before negotiations can begin, while simultaneously threatening he will launch a third intifada if negotiations fail.