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Thankful to be Home

| November 21, 2023 2:00 PM

North Forker Bonnie Hankey has something to be thankful for this holiday season — escaping the escalating war in Israel.

Hankey is a member of the Bahá’í Faith and was on a pilgrimage to Haifa, Israel. She was just boarding her flight when Hamas attacked Israel, sending the two into a bloody war.

At first she was told her pilgrimage itinerary would be intact, but by the time she landed in Israel things became increasingly dire and she was advised, along with thousands of other Americans and other foreigners in the country, to get out. 

That proved easier said than done, as commercial flights almost immediately began canceling flights to and from the country — it was simply too dangerous to fly with a myriad of rockets in the air.

Hankey tried to make the best of it, while still scrambling to find a way out. She visited the Bahá’í World Centre on Mount Carmel, an idyllic place in the desert, where the western end of Mount Carmel overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the Bay of Haifa.

Meanwhile, she contacted the U.S. Consulate for help to get out of the country.

There were no commercial flights leaving, not at least under $7,000, she said. This was on Monday, just three days after the war started. Meanwhile air sirens were going off and at one point, she found herself in the back room of the restaurant she was eating at to avoid any missiles that might land in the street.

She kept making calls and contacts to get out of there. She called Delta Airlines. They told her if she could get to Amsterdam they could get her home.

Haifa isn’t that close to Gaza —  about two hours drive — but it’s just 30 minutes to Syria, and the conflict was brewing to the north as well.

By Thursday not much had change, though, and Hankey was getting more and more concerned. There was even talk about taking a boat to Greece and then a connecting flight to Amsterdam from there.

Then she received notice from the U.S. Consulate office. If she wanted to get out, she needed to be at the Tel Aviv airport, by Saturday evening.

Problem was, Saturday evening was just 3 hours away. Hankey and a host of other families from other countries made a mad dash to Tel Aviv, more than an hour and a half to the south, by private taxi.

“We hustled,” she said.

Once at the airport they were brought to an empty office upstairs and told to stay there until further notice.

“We also signed our lives away saying we would pay them (the U.S. government) back,” she said.

A flight out never came to fruition that night and they ended up sleeping on the floor. 

The next morning was chaotic and she helped a woman with an autistic son, who was on a mission in Nazareth, navigate the chaos. There was a mass of people trying to get out, but the consulate knew who was legitimate and who wasn’t as they waited at the gate.

“We get on this rickety plane,” and off they went, Hankey said. Two hours later they were in Athens, Greece. Hankey said she breathed a sigh of relief after the plane made it to an altitude above where the average terrorist missile could reach them.

Once in Athens, she expected to have a day or two to explore the city.

“I was going to go see the Acropolis,” she said. But Delta contacted her and flew her to Amsterdam the next day and then to home.

At the Kalispell airport, friends, including longtime friend Lois Walker, greeted her with flowers and hugs. It was Monday. It had been a long week.

Hankey loves to travel and she’s been all over the world, including China, Mexico, Europe, England and had previously been to Israel in 1977.

But it was a trip to Canada with a friend in an old diesel RV that also saw her stranded earlier this year. The RV threw a rod north of Waterton on a lonely stretch of highway. 

“We were out on the plains in the middle of nowhere,” she said.

A kindly young rancher helped her out and a friend out. He put the RV on a flatbed and took it back to his ranch so she could get some help. Walker made the drive up to Alberta to rescue her the next day.

Hankey spent the night in the camper on the flatbed. She gave the rancher the broken down RV.

Hankey is the sister of the late John Frederick, the longtime owner of the North Fork Hostel and Square Peg Ranch. Frederick was a champion of preserving the North Fork, including buying stock in the mining company Rio Tinto so he could attend its shareholders meeting in Canada and protest the company’s plans to mine coal in Cabin Creek, a tributary of the river. 

Since Frederick’s death in late 2017, Hankey has been living full-time up the North Fork in Frederick’s old home.

The Israel and Canada mishaps have not dampened her wanderlust. She’s planning on taking a cruise around South America and down to Antarctica in the near future.

“But I may stay still for a day or two until then,” she said with a smile.