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Israel Air Force:
Recovering Downed Pilot Behind-Enemy-Lines

(October 16, 1986)


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On October 16, 1986, during a air raid against a terrorist base near the coastal city of Tyre in southern Lebanon, a freak accident caused the loss of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) Phantom jet which led to the capture of IDF soldier Ron Arad and the amazing recovery of a downed pilot.

When the Phantom jet approached its target, a malfunctioning fuse caused the plane's bombs to detonate prematurely as they separated from the aircraft, blowing up the jet and rocketing the aircrew out of the cockpit. Navigator, Major Ron Arad, parachuted safely to the ground but was immediately captured by enemy forces and taken hostage. Pilot Yishai Aviram, on the other hand, came down into thick vegetation on a cliff wall along a steep wadi.

As Aviram clung to the side of the cliff, the stage was set for a dramatic rescue operation.

Terrorists from rival Lebanese factions fighting against Israel raced to capture Aviram, as they had succeeded in doing with Arad. Hidden among raspberry bushes on the cliff, the terrorists passed within 100 meters of Aviram's position and repeateedly shot their automatic weapons in his general direction. The pilot was sure he didn't have a chance.

Immediately after the malfunction in the jet, the IAF scrambled rescue services and attack helicopters toward the site of the crash in an attempt to locate and rescue the downed soldiers. When Aviram was located, fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters coordinated to strafe the terrorists while the pilot scale halfway up the steep canyon wall until he reached a small opening.

Ideally, a rescue helicopter would have landed to pick up the downed crew member. But with bullets flying in all directions, no place to make a secure landing and Amiram still hidden in brush, the lead Cobra helicopter pilot - ignoring his craft's electrical problems - pressed closer and closer to the cliff as Amiram directed him through an emergency raido: “A bit forward ... two meters to the right ... hold it right there.”

While the Cobra hovered next to the cliff, Amiram leapt onto the helicopter's skid, grabbing it with one arm, and shouted to the crew: “go, go, go!”

With Amiram dangling precariously from the skid, the Cobra pilot slowly turned to leave the area. Bullets rained from all angles. The helicopter set down twice near the Mediterannean coast, hoping to transfer Amiram to a rescue chopper, however, each time enemy fire prevented the transfer.

In a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood movie, Amiram remained perched on the Cobra's skid until reaching Israeli territory.


Sources: Israel Defense Forces; Wikipedia

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