Austria’s plans for an evacuation of its citizens from Israel by military aircraft on Wednesday were thwarted when its only available C-130 Hercules had a technical failure, forcing the country to book seats on a commercial flight instead.

Austria said on Tuesday it would begin evacuations to Cyprus on Wednesday with one of its ageing C-130 aircraft. These are the biggest in its fleet but also among the oldest, in service since the 1960s. The government is in the process of replacing the aircraft ahead of their retirement.

As the aircraft was preparing to set off for Israel from Austria on Wednesday morning, smoke in the part of the aircraft where passengers would have sat made taking off impossible and it was taken for repairs.

In the evening as it became clear the plane would not leave that day, the Foreign Ministry said it had booked 100 seats on an Israir Airlines flight to the Cypriot airport of Larnaca that was due to land at 9pm.

“A black day for the armed forces: We could not help our compatriots,” Defence Ministry spokesman Michael Bauer said on X, the social media network formerly known as Twitter.

After the Israir flight landed in Cyprus, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said it had evacuated 98 people on that flight, of whom 15 were from countries other than Austria: Israel, Germany, Spain, Hungary, the United States and the Netherlands.

Another evacuation, on a chartered Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna from Tel Aviv, would take place on Thursday at midday, it added.

The incident raised questions as to why a military evacuation was necessary when commercial flights were available, and illustrated the decrepit state of Austria’s armed forces.

The neutral country has long neglected investing in military equipment and its officers say the armed forces are not equipped to defend Austria in case of attack. The conservative-led government says it is beginning to address the issue.

Asked why neither of Austria’s other C-130 Hercules aircraft had been used instead of the one that broke down, Bauer told Puls 24 TV: “Both Hercules aircraft are being serviced – the first until March, the other until December.”