Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey DeSantis, welcomed hundreds of Americans who flew home from Tel Aviv on Sunday evening after getting stuck for days in Israel. The flight, carrying 270 Americans, landed at Tampa International Airport, the governor’s office said in a news release. Seven additional evacuees landed in Orlando.
“Once the plane landed in Tampa, evacuees were able to access resources from multiple state agencies. Additionally, the governor is sending medical supplies, hygiene products, clothing and children’s toys to Israel to help impacted Israelis,” the news release said.
In a video posted on social media, DeSantis said, “We’re here at Tampa airport. We are having our first flight of people being rescued from Israel and it’s landed. Over 260 people that wanted to get back to the United States and couldn’t do it … so we stepped up and led. We’re happy to be able to deliver this.”
Bryan Stern, CEO and founder of Project DYNAMO, the search and rescue non-profit organization that facilitated the flight, told reporters that 270 people were on board the plane. The rescuees included 91 children and four dogs, Stern said. Many people on the plane cried when it touched down in Tampa, he added.
Getting Americans out of Gaza was “complicated,” Stern said, though he wouldn’t comment on future rescue operations.
Major airlines canceled flights in and out of Tel Aviv after Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7. In recent days,for the thousands of trapped Americans, the first of which landed in Athens, Greece, on Saturday. The flights are departing Ben Gurion International Airport.
Other families arriving in New York and New Jersey Sunday boarded flights on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, when travel is typically forbidden. In this case, the Israeli airline El Al made an exception for the first time since 1982.
The U.S. State Department said more than 20,000 U.S. citizens stuck in Israel and Gaza have reached out for departure assistance.
DeSantis signed an executive order on Thursday to allow flights to transport Florida residents in Israel back to the state. The order enabled the Florida Division of Emergency Management to bring Floridians home and transport necessary supplies to Israel, the news release said.
Appearing on Fox News on Friday, DeSantis said that hundreds of Floridians were stranded in Israel and that the state was coordinating rescue efforts with Israel’s government. “I want to bring them back to the state of Florida, so we have planes ready,” DeSantis said.
“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,” DeSantis said in Sunday’s news release.
— Astrid Martinez contributed to this report.