A Sikorsky helicopter in action

Daniel’s day started off normally: a strong cup of coffee and the paperwork from last week’s maneuvers.

Daniel is part of the elite 669 search and rescue unit. The call came in a little after mid-morning and Daniel felt a tingling sensation at the back of his neck. This is what the last year and a half’s intensive training was all about: the grueling, body numbing, physical push to the limit of human endurance and even beyond. The medical lifesaving training, climbing, rappelling, diving, snappling from an in-flight helicopter and intense training under fire, which might be required in a real operation, were all part of the course.

When a plane is about to crash and the pilot and navigator are forced to eject, the pilot’s seat ejects just after the navigator’s behind him, so that the thrust rocket that powers the ejection does not burn the navigator sitting in the rear seat. The delay of half a second is an amazingly long time when you are waiting for your seat to eject. This agonizing wait passed and the pilot felt himself thrust into the air with forces many times that of gravity, his seat spinning several times, as if he were on an extreme joy ride in an amusement park. Finally the parachute opened and at the same time, the seat disconnected, stabilizing his free fall. All that was left was to float down and land in the choppy 28oC sea water off the coast of Gaza.

The group of eight on duty 669 combat fighters had spread out all their equipment on the runway tarmac and were going through a drill when the live call came in. The diving equipment was in a neat pile on the left and Daniel snatched up his wetsuit and hit the tarmac running. As he threw his gear in the back of the transport vehicle, he felt the adrenaline kick in. This was the real thing. As they drove over to the Sikorsky helicopter whose rotors were warming up, he prayed that all his training would stand him in good stead.

The handbook states that they must be airborne within 15 minutes and most of this time is spent waiting for the engines to warm up. After 14 minutes they headed out to sea and Daniel sighed in relief.

These are the faceless soldiers that you don’t hear about. They are the heroes behind the scenes who are on constant standby to rescue a pilot, a stranded hiker or even a child who needs to be taken by helicopter to the nearest hospital in Israel.

Within 20 minutes, they were over their target, guided by a drone aircraft hovering overhead in the distance. The first to hit the water after snappling down was the paramedic. He needed to determine the pilot’s medical condition and see if it was safe to winch him up. The first pilot got the all-clear and the medic moved on to the second one who was also okay. The paramedic was hoisted up and now it was Daniel’s operation, rappelling down and hitting the water next to the pilot. He managed to get the harness around him. The pilot was not hurt but somewhat dazed due to the G force shock from the ejection. He gave Daniel a thumbs-up and they were hoisted up into the belly of the helicopter. As Daniel unhitched the pilot and safely laid him on the stretcher, the pilot gave him a wry smile, a wink and mouthed silently the best words Daniel could hear. "Thank you, thank you".

Note: Real names have been changed.

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This article shows us a sliver of what it's like to be a soldier in the Israeli army! I am a grandmother of 2 of these soldiers and every day I pray for the fighting to be over!

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Ilan Hirschowitz

Ilan Hirschowitz was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Today he works as a Software Support & Dba Manager for a large international software company. Photography is his passionate hobby and he r...

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