For nearly four decades, the Boeing 747 was the world’s largest airliner. Jumbo only lost its reign in 2005, when the Airbus A380 first took off. However, the 747 still holds the record for the most passengers on a single flight.
This feat came on May 24, 1991, when a Boeing 747 from the Israeli El Al Airlines carried more than 1,000 passengers. The official number says it was 1,088, but there are reports that some children have traveled in hiding, which could increase that number to 1,122 passengers. In addition, two children were born on the plane during the flight. The record was recognized by the “Guinness Book”, the book of records.
The model used for the operation was a 747-200 freighter. Given its size, if it were a two-class passenger version, the plane would fit up to 452 seats. To be able to carry more than twice as many people, passengers had to travel very narrowly.
Less fuel, no luggage
The flight was carried out between Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Tel Aviv (Israel), and lasted a little over three hours. Since the Boeing 747-200 had a capacity of 12,7 thousand km, it was possible to take off with significantly less fuel tanks than the maximum capacity. In addition, the Ethiopians were thin and carried only their personal belongings. With the weight reduced alone, it would have been possible to accommodate more than 1,000 people on board.
There was also a security issue. The Boeing 747 is certified to carry just over 600 passengers. This limit is determined by the ability to evacuate everyone from the plane in just 90 seconds. With more than 1000 passengers, that time would be much longer.
However, the busy flight had a humanitarian mission that was at the time more important.
In 1991, Ethiopia was on the verge of the end of a long civil war and the government was on the verge of overthrowing it. Israel was concerned about the former Ethiopian Jewish community and made a deal with the Mengistu Haile Mariam regime to transport thousands of people out of the country.
Operation Solomon was the third mission to evacuate civilians to Israel and received logistical support from the United States. Originally, Israel would last up to two weeks. Shortly before the rescue began, Mengistu Haile Mariam left the country. Israel negotiated with the rebels, but that period was reduced to only 48 hours.
The mission was to transport more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. With the reduced deadline, there was no alternative but to exceed the aircraft’s capacity limit.
At the airport, a crowd was trying to board the first available plane. Without much control over boarding, the goal was to place as many people as possible. Many children and infants traveled in the arms of their parents.
Operation Solomon rescued, within 48 hours, 14,325 Ethiopian Jews who had been threatened with death. In total, 34 aircraft were used by the Israeli Air Force and El Al Airlines.