Young Woonona woman Kiri Crittenden and her family were celebrating her birthday this morning after she successfully made it out of Israel as the country descended further into war.
Family and friends around Wollongong had finally been able to breathe sighs of relief when the 19-year-old decorated surf lifesaver was high in the air on her way to Cyprus.
It had taken some difficult decisions as the security situation deteriorated, and with no help from the Australian Government and flights out harder to find, Ms Crittenden did it herself.
While several of her friends had decided to head east from Jerusalem through the West Bank to cross the border into Jordan, Ms Crittenden decided to stay and try to fly out of Tel Aviv.
But the flight, along with many others, was cancelled. More worrying delays were to come.
On Wednesday afternoon the Australian Government finally announced repatriation flights operated by Qantas for the more than 100 Australians estimated left in the region.
But Ms Crittenden had been among countless others for anxious hours at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport as available seats on planes were disappearing before their eyes.
Ms Crittenden had arrived in Jerusalem just a day before Palestinian group Hamas unleashed a series of terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens, with gunmen massacring hundreds of men, women and children in their homes and an estimated 260 people at a music festival.
Barrages of rockets were directed at cities in southern Israel and one fired at Jerusalem had injured nine people after the Jewish state's "Iron Dome" missile defence system knocked it out of the air.
Mr Crittenden on Tuesday told the Mercury she knew many young Israelis who were ready to take up arms as the country called up an estimated 300,000 defence force reservists.
She had remained calm during the descent into war but as she was trying to leave hundreds of flights were being cancelled - including her own, while she was on the way to the airport.
Ms Crittenden said she had received no help at all from the Australian consulate or Government, who said they were not considering sending carrier flights to evacuate Australian citizens.
Instead the embassy recommended keeping an eye on the Smart Traveller website. Other Australians have reported similar stories or weak or insubstantial assistance from their government.
Finally a friend was able to book her a ticket on a flight to Cyprus late on Tuesday Israel time, and Ms Crittenden and her "legend" friend thought they were away.
But the flight was delayed for several hours before finally taking off and they arrived safely in Larnaca today.
A small Greek Papadopolou sandwich biscuit (like a Mediterranean Oreo) was the "best birthday cake ever" aboard the one-hour TUS Airways flight to Larnaca.
Ms Crittenden had been able to stay calm enough to make good decisions but once on safe ground the relief was clear to see.
Ms Crittenden, who was travelling after graduating from Woonona High School a year ago, was given the "Trailblazer" award for 2022 from education firm Art of Smart, and was Bulli Surf Life Saving Club's rookie if the year in 2020, when as a 16-year-old she patrolled for more than 80 hours while teaching people how to surf.
She had changed her flight plans at the last minute to go to Israel because she wanted to learn more about why it was the most contested country in the world.
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