First state-coordinated flight from Israel to Florida lands in Tampa

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Many sighs of relief Sunday night as a plane full of people traveling from Israel landed at Tampa International Airport.

As many as 270 people were on the charter flight traveling from Tel Aviv to Portugal to Tampa, many of them residents of Florida. The breakdown of the passenger list showed the following statistics:

  • 75% Floridians
  • 91 children
  • 4 dogs

WINK News’ Claire Galt was the only Southwest Florida reporter on the tarmac at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ invitation as the flight arrived. It is the first state-coordinated one but not the last.

“I am proud of how quickly we have been able to activate resources and do what the federal government could not: get Floridians and other Americans back home, reunited with their families, free of charge,” said DeSantis.

And, back on American soil, where there isn’t the constant fear of bombs, missiles or war, there is a sense of relief but also concern.

“I left because of the kids,” said Marianne Hollou. “It’s very emotional to be here, to be away from all of them. I have family back there as well.”

Hollou and her family split their time between Miami and Tel Aviv.

When Hamas launched its terror attack a week ago Saturday, she knew they had to get out.

“Very thankful but I feel very guilty,” she added.

The Governor said he anticipates hundreds of Floridians will fly back to Florida in the next few days. WINK News asked how he sees the war ending.

“Well, I think, I mean, how it should end is that Hamas should be eradicated, and the whole infrastructure of terrorism should be eliminated. That’s ultimately what you have to do

Sunday’s flight was coordinated in partnership with Project Dynamo, a search, rescue, aid and assistance non-profit.

“We have a dedicated team of volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure the well-being of Americans caught in crisis situations all over the world,” said Bryan Stern, Project Dynamo CEO and Founder. “It’s truly heart-wrenching to watch the destruction unfolding in Israel. We’re so grateful to Governor DeSantis for partnering with us on this mission to save every American in need.” 

First state-coordinated flight from Israel – CREDIT: WINK News

DeSantis announced on X, Thursday, that he approved an executive order authorizing rescue operations in Israel.

DeSantis said the operations will “bring Floridians home and transport supplies to our allies.”

This comes as the U.S. State Department on Sunday upped the number of Americans killed to 30 in the Hamas attack on Israel.

Hamas terrorists have murdered over 1,400 Israelis since the Oct. 7 assault on Israel.

WINK News spoke with Bryan Stern, the head of Project Dynamo, about the rescue mission.

“Two hundred seventy Americans and one shot, it’s the largest rescue Dynamo’s ever done,” said Stern. “I can’t thank the Governor enough. I can’t thank his team enough. His team has been great, different parts of the Florida state machine. My team, we’ve been working really hard. I haven’t slept in four days. We’re just really, really, really happy to be home.”

The Governor’s Office has released a link for those needing evacuation. Click here to fill out the form.

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