From the New York Times:
Robert F. Maguire Jr., the chief pilot of Operation Magic Carpet, which evacuated more than 40,000 Jewish refugees from Yemen to the newly created state of Israel between late 1948 and early 1950, died on June 10 at his home in Northridge, Calif. He was 94.…
Starting in November 1947, when the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, Arabs and Jews were at war. Pogroms against the Jews of Yemen soon followed. In an operation that was arduous, dangerous and secret, nearly the entire Jewish population of Yemen was evacuated beginning in December 1948.
The flight from Yemen to Israel, a journey of more than 1,400 miles, was almost entirely over hostile territory. Though the evacuation was kept secret for fear of sabotage, the planes were routinely fired on by Egyptian forces. Fuel was scarce. Pilots were warned that if they were forced to land in enemy territory, the passengers, and perhaps the crew, risked being executed.
Requiring a little more than a year and 380 flights, Operation Magic Carpet evacuated 40,000 to 50,000 Yemenite Jews without loss of life. David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, was reported to have called Mr. Maguire "the Irish Moses." The writer Leon Uris based a character in his 1958 novel, "Exodus," on him.…
… Mr. Maguire became a pilot for Alaska Airlines. With the creation of the State of Israel in May 1948, the airline won a contract to fly Jewish refugees there from around the globe. Mr. Maguire flew thousands of Jews out of Shanghai before being sent to the Middle East to help start Operation Magic Carpet in conjunction with the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, a humanitarian organization.
An ancient, nomadic people, Yemenite Jews had been oppressed since the advent of Islam in the eighth century. But their deliverance into Israel was prophesied in a line from the Book of Isaiah: "They shall mount up with wings as eagles."
When news of the planned evacuation reached them, they walked, sometimes hundreds of miles, carrying Bibles and Torah scrolls, until they reached a refugee camp at the British protectorate of Aden, on the southern tip of Yemen.
… Few of the Yemenite Jews had ever seen an airplane. But the airline painted an eagle with outstretched wings over the door of each craft, and the Yemenites went aboard.…
… He once ran out of fuel and was forced to land in Egypt. When airport officials rushed up to the plane, Mr. Maguire ordered them to send ambulances immediately.
"What for?" they asked him.
"I have smallpox on board," Mr. Maguire replied.
He got his fuel, and flew on to Tel Aviv.