Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bacteria found in contaminated jet fuel

UPDATE: Israel Airports Authority inquiry finds bacteria, mold in contaminated fuel, seeks foreign assistance in testing

Air traffic at Israel's major airport halted on Thursday after the airport's jet fuel supply was found to be contaminated. Chaos at Ben Gurion ensued on the eve of Israel's Independence Day Weekend, and as thousands of Israeli basketball fans were scheduled to fly to Barcelona to watch Maccabi Tel Aviv compete in the Final Four. Walla! reported that 1600 people were stranded at Ben Gurion, and El Al canceled 20 flights. On Friday morning, flights resumed after army tankers hauled jet fuel to the airport from emergency reserves at Pi Gillot. Planes were given enough emergency fuel to reach Cyprus or Jordan, and then fully fuel from the intermediary airports.

On Thursday Transportation Minister arrived himself at Ben Gurion airport, emphasizing the gravity of the crisis, and declared that "a serious problem has been discovered." Former head of the Civil Aviation Authority Neri Yarkoni, who happened to be stuck in New York as a result of the fuel crisis, said that the current fuel troubles were a "serious and abnormal incident of international proportions of which no incident that I recall can equal" and that "only after the reason for the contamination is discovered will it be possible to know what brought it on and was it possible to have avoided it, including the legal consequences over the huge damages in addition to personal conclusions." He added that "if anyone in a position of authority knew anything about the contamination and remained silent, this incident is criminal."

The decision to ground all planes at Ben Gurion followed a malfunction in an Arkia plane on Thursday. Paz Aviation, one of Israel's major fuel providers, said Thursday that an unidentified oily substance in the fueling terminals caused the contamination. The Institute of Energy and Environment have not been able to identify the substance and ruled that it may be a hazardous material, according to YNet. According to one fuel provider employee, the problem was originally detected over a week ago, but the issue was kept quiet for financial reasons. As a result, the substance accumulated and clogged planes' fuel filters all week. The implications of this process are deadly, as clogged fuel filters can cause a plane to crash (God forbid).

What's more, the symptoms of contaminated jet fuel which halted flights out of Ben Gurion were seen in recent weeks in buses and trucks across Israel as well. Contaminated fuel contains unidentified greasy liquid parts which get stuck in gas pipeline filters, causing damage to vehicle tanks. Several days ago, the biological institute in Nes Tziona was summoned to take samples at a central Israel fuel terminal.

Fuel filters containing samples of the unidentified oily substance are now undergoing special chemical testing in Germany. If results show that the substance is dangerous, Israel will need to clean all fuel storage and transfer systems, a procedure which could take days. UPDATE: The German lab has refused to conduct tests on the jet fuel thought to be contaminated, citing that they only deal with military matters and do not conduct tests for Israel. Meanwhile, an Israeli air force kit was used to test the fuel, and no dangerous elements were detected.

On Saturday, Cyprus media reported that Tel Aviv-bound flights continued to be rerouted to Cyprus for refueling. A total of 42 planes have come to Cyprus, and a number of airlines in the U.S., Israel and Europe have been affected. The manager of Hermes airport predicted that planes would continue to land in Cyprus on Saturday as well.

Investigation into the source of the contamination occurs on the backdrop of the U.S. assassination of Osama bin Laden, and a week before calls to invade Israel on May 15th put out by Palestinians and their adherents. The UK Daily Mail is the first publication to consider terrorism, stating "It was unclear when flights would resume and there are questions over whether or not the incident was linked to terrorism." It also considers the proximity of the crisis to Wednesday's Fatah-Hamas peace deal.

והוא יהיה פרא אדם ידו בכל ויד כל בו ועל פני כל אחיו ישכן

"And he shall be a beast of a man; his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him; and wherever his brothers dwell, he shall also be." (Genesis 16:12)

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