Florida flies back 270 citizens from Israel on charter

About 270 citizens are back on American soil today, after being caught in the war between Israel and Hamas.

A 777 flight from Tel Aviv arrived at Tampa International Airport Sunday night, evacuating United States citizens from Israel.

The state of Florida chartered the flight and partnered with a nonprofit to get families back home.

It was the end of a long journey for American families who had been living in Israel, as well as those who were traveling there when the conflict began.

“It was a lot of back and forth, a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress,” said Sarah, a woman who described the difficult journey to get here with her husband Ben, their daughter Liv, and their dog.

She’s been living in Israel for about nine years, but the bombs and ground fighting were too much.

“I couldn’t sleep thinking about my child, it was like psychological warfare,” she said, after landing in Tampa. “It was just more of like what could happen if something bigger should like occur.”

Others aboard the plane had been traveling through Israel when the fighting started.

Homeward bound!! 🇺🇸

Project DYNAMO is en route to the U.S. with 270 American passengers we’ve evacuated from Israel. A huge thank you to our donors for supporting our 602nd mission today!

We’ll be touching down on American soil tonight!! ✈️ pic.twitter.com/H17npk5kwx

— Project Dynamo Official (@Project_Dynamo1) October 15, 2023

The state partnered with Project Dynamo, a Tampa-based search, rescue, and aid nonprofit. CEO and founder Bryan Stern, an Army and Navy veteran, traveled to Israel shortly after the attacks with a mission to get Americans home.

“This isn’t get to the airport and get on an airplane, this is a week-long endeavor,” he explained. “These are people from all over Israel, right up to the front lines of the war we have some people.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, greeted Americans on the runway, just days after signing an executive order to get them out of harm’s way. He says the state flew others in through Orlando.

“I think if you were watching, you saw a lot of families with young kids,” DeSantis said. “So, a lot of these people were in a real pinch. They had no help. They were not able to get out of Israel and the state of Florida stepped up and answered the call.”

The state said travelers flew here without having to pay out of pocket, we asked where that funding came from, and if more is on the way, but haven’t heard back. The governor has been critical of President Biden’s response to the conflict, accusing the administration of not doing enough to help its citizens.

“The United States government will arrange charter flights to provide transportation from Israel to sites in Europe,” said John Kirby, the National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications. “And I would add that we’re also exploring other options to expand the capacity of doing this, including exploring whether it’s possible to help Americans leave by land and by sea.”

Monday, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship left an Israeli port for Cyprus, it’s part of the U.S. government’s mission using air, land, and sea to get US nationals to a safer place before they can return to the United States.

In addition to our questions about the cost, News4JAX also asked the Governor’s Office if there are plans to evacuate more citizens.

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