On Friday night, an IAF “Shimshon” (Super Hercules C-130J) took off to in order to transport Cypriot firefighting and rescue personnel to Israel. Read about Israeli-Cypriot cooperation, the “Shimson’s” missions and the significance of the relations between countries and people
Tal Giladi, Cyprus
On Friday night, a team of Transport Pilots and Navigators, Loadmasters and Aircraft Security personnel boarded a “Shimshon” (Super Hercules C-130J) and took off for Cyprus in order to transport Cypriot firefighters to Israel, reinforcements in the effort to extinguish the fires raging across Israel. “Since the fires began, we have been thinking how we could use the ‘Shimshon’ to assist the effort”, shared Maj. Sagi, Deputy Commander of the “Elephants” Squadron. “We had an urge to initiate something and not sit around idly. Even though we didn’t predict any missions, we decided to prepare all of our aircraft for a sortie and call our people to base”. It would soon become clear that their efforts were not in vain. “It was evening when I received a call from the Squadron Commander who told me that we had received an operational command. We were asked to take off and transport firefighters from Cyprus, reinforcements for the Israeli firefighters. Everything was ready and all we had to do was take off”.
Photography: Tal Giladi
A Close Friend
About 70 firefighters who specialize in wooded terrain waited patiently on the tarmac for the ride to Israel. “We thanked them for the help, and they in turn express their excitement upon visiting a new place”.
“This will be my first time in Israel, we heard on Wednesday that large fires were raging in your country and it was clear that we would come and assist you if the situation wouldn’t improve”, shared Andres Aristidu, a Cypriot firefighter. “Only last summer Israel sent firefighting aircraft to Paphos in order to help extinguish the raging fire that erupted here, therefore, even though we were alerted with minutes to spare, we came happily and out of belief in what we are going to do. We packed all of our equipment quickly and I am now waiting impatiently to operate in territory that I am not familiar with”.
Paphos base is familiar territory for the Israeli aircrews. Maj. Sagi joked that the base’s runways were saved in the aircraft’s computer from the last time Israel aided Cyprus. “We had little time to plan this flight that was relatively easy because of the short range. On the personal level, we, the aircrews, ‘fight’ amongst ourselves about who gets to participate in these sorties, as far as we are concerned, every contribution to the country when it is in need is significant and satisfying”.
Photography: Tal Giladi
Where we Are Needed
The IAF’s fifth “Shimshon” just landed this past Thursday and now the young platform is able to boast yet another aid mission, this time for its own country. “Our squadron was reestablished when the ‘Shimshon’ arrive about three years ago, but has already managed to participate in large scale aid missions such as the bombing in Turkey in June and the earthquake in Nepal, last year”, noted Maj. Sagi. “We have flown to almost every possible continent and our first deployment was two weeks after we were announced as operational. Every time Israel provided international aid since, the ‘Elephants’ Squadron was there and today I know that whenever I hear about extreme scenarios in the news, it is very likely that I will soon find myself in the heart of the crisis”.
“Since the IAF received the ‘Shimshon’, its ability to participate in complex and long missions that require heavy equipment or long-range flights has risen”, emphasizes Brig. Gen. Eyal Grinboim, Commander of Nevatim AFB and the captain of the flight. “As a result of the integration, we became more relevant in the various aid missions, which are one of the ‘Shimshon’ and Transport Division’s many missions. There has been a significant development in our relations with foreign countries in the past few years because Israeli forces have traveled anywhere they could help. The IAF goes where it is needed”.
Photography: Tal Giladi
Human Relationships Bridge Every Gap
We landed in Tel-Nof AFB at 7:00 AM, where buses prepared to transport the Cypriot firefighters to the raging fires around the country awaited them. The Cypriot Ambassador to Israel greeted the firefighters upon their arrival and they receive an update about the current situation.
The Cypriot firefighting aircraft arrived in the first days of the fires to Hatzor AFB. This fact along with the fact that Cyprus was the first country to send its firefighting aircraft to Israel when we faced the 2010 Mount Carmel Forest Fire corresponds with the existence of an emergency aid agreement between the two countries. The agreement relates to many fields including firefighting and natural disasters. A joint firefighting training exercise for Greek, Cypriot and Israeli forces that was held last June, also contributed to the strengthening of the bond and made the cooperation natural.