Danny Natovich observed the opening flight of the war from an observation tower
“A pack of planes? Impossible, it’s Yom Kippur” The start of the Yom Kippur War surprised everyone, and shocked Danny Natovich in particular. On October 6th 1973, he stood at an observation tower, and watched a flock of birds become a threatening group of MiG planes
Shir Golan | Photography: Lior Kestner
October 6th, 1973. The afternoon of Yom Kippur The Day of Atonement) at the “Ophir” airport at Sharm el-Sheikh. The few soldiers left at the base were relishing the quiet that Yom Kippur brings, and plane engines were silent as well. The view around the base–water, skies, and the horizon line between them-was particularly peaceful.
“It is approximately 2:00 PM, and I’m in the afternoon shift at the observation tower, scanning the clear horizon. Over”, describes Danny Natovich, who was then a flight supervisor at the base. “I begin from north, the edge of lane 22. Right to the Sinai coastline, continue right, a deep blue sea, a ship fading away. More right sea and more sea, I continue to scan and the Tiran Island comes into my range of site.
“I continue to look south, and notice many black dots near the water line, continuing north. Like a flock of birds. But it wasn’t migration season, and even if it were they usually fly higher and to the opposite direction. If these aren’t birds, they’re planes”, he reconstructs the thoughts that go through his mind in what became the first seconds of the war. “But it can’t be, it’s Yom Kippur. There are no practice flights and the supervision units hadn’t announced flights in the area. This can’t be”.
“You’re Imagining Things”
16 MiG-21 planes and 12 MiG-17s turn up from north, disappearing behind Tiran Island and later emerging from east, with their target clear–attacking “Ophir” base, its communication systems and the Hawk Missile Battery nearby.
“I pick up binoculars and clearly identify the flock as a flock of planes. I’m shoc”, determines Danny. “I press the button to communicate with the controller, trying to maintain composure and asking him if he sees a group of planes on the radar flying in from south-east. He responds–“There’s no such thing, I can’t see anything. Get yourself some glasses”. He laughs and hangs up the phone. The dots approach Tiran Island, and even without my binoculars I can identify the shape of combat planes. I get in touch with the controller again and announce, “I clearly recognize approximately 20 combat planes flying low from south the north, now behind Tiran Island”. Silence.
An Alarm Rises and Falls
Danny had already realized that these were combat planes, which were at those seconds making their way toward him. He would not forget that moment for the decades that have passed since. “I felt helpless and a momentary blackout, and then the adrenaline started pumping”, he remembers. “There are no thoughts and no hesitations. The body begins to function according to practice and not logic”. He pounces on the sirens and activates them. The alarm rises and falls, and meanwhile combat planes form a line on the axis of lane 22 and begin flying toward it.
Two “Phantom” crews who were on call immediately respond to the interception siren. They report to the underground hangar and take off, mere moments before the combat planes attack. “The Phantoms dive in from above and enter aerial combat at low altitudes. Machine gun and air-to-air missile fire is shot at close-range, MiGs fall and become balls of fire, others are hit above water, fall and disappear. The attack ends, silence”, he recalls. “Two Phantoms are out of fuel and they stop the chase after seven MiG planes are brought down. They return for landing, and the war continues”.