Colonel (Res.) Afek preparing for a sortie in the F-4 Phantom jet
Colonel N and the Sikorsky CH-53
Major (Res.) Chen with the Heron-1 UAV
A man and his machine – That’s the base of every heroic IAF story. IAF Site presents three unforgettable stories of courage, determination and sacrifice
David Greenwald | Translation: Eden Sharon
During the second week of the 2006 second Lebanon War, a team of the IDF Special Forces Unit “Egoz” entered the Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras. A harsh battle erupted, during which some of the soldiers were injured and evacuated. At nighttime it turned out that SSgt Yehonatan Valesyuk is MIA.
In the following morning, Major (Res.) Chen, an IAF UAV operator, was called up to assist in searching the area.
“We received the relevant intelligence that was gathered until that moment and started processing the information and searching using a special, High-Tec technology we developed”, says Major (Res.) Chen. “We had no one to consult, so we had to trust ourselves”.
The pressure increased during the long, toilsome hours of searching. “We kept receiving calls of the command and the division asking for updates. We were observed closely. The event was us to manage”, says Major (Res.) Chen. “We dealt with an extensive area, and after a few hours of searching in which we focused on several suspicious spots, I managed to locate something that resembled a body under a pile of stones. Later in the afternoon and after a close examination, I called the division commander and informed him that I located the missing soldier”.
Based on his instruction, an “Egoz” force was sent back in the battle field to evacuate SSgt Valesyuk body. 18 hours after declared missing, immediately after sunset, he was found in the spot pointed out by Major (Res.) Chen and was brought back to be buried in Israel.
“There was a huge stress relief when the force reentered the field”, he recalls. “It was an emotionally difficult, complicated event. I was very relieved to have found him”.
In the end of the war, Major (Res.) Chen was awarded a citation on behalf of IAF Commander.
“I might die here, but it’s now or never”
Nighttime at Tel-Nof Airbase. The 2006 second Lebanon War has just recently ended and two Sikorsky Ch-53 helicopters take off once again, carrying soldiers on their way to a secret mission.
“It was a high-risk mission to begin with, because the area was still volatile”, recalls Colonel N, one of the four pilots who participated in the operation. “We waited for the force to finish its mission so that we could evacuate it. But the mission did not go as planned”.
The force fulfilled its mission but encountered Hezbollah ambush. A battle erupted and enemy forces kept streaming to the area. The Special Forces soldiers retreated until they reach a high ridge which blocked their way.
“I flew with Lt. Col. Daniel Shifnbaur, the squadron commander, as we both understood that this battle is not going to be over soon. The sun was rising and we began to run out of time”, says Colonel N. “The Hezbollah forces kept moving forward and the soldiers were stuck. We knew that if we don’t save them they’d die”.
The helicopter pilots watched the smoky battlefield and decided to carry out a complex evacuation mission.
“We knew we were going to enter the field, the only question was how. I remember saying to myself – ‘I might die here, but it’s now or never’. And then we entered”, describes Colonel N. “I flew in an area we knew nothing about, between rockets fire, mortars and small-arms. We landed while fighting, loaded the soldiers and flew away as fast as we could”.
Lt. Col. Emmanuel Moreno from “Sayeret Matkal” Special Forces Unit was killed during the operation.
Lt. Col. Shifnbaur was killed during the 2010 IAF Sikorsky CH-53 crash in Romania.
Colonel N was granted the IAF Commander Citation for the courageous evacuation.
“That was the most dangerous operation I was a part of and one of the most dangerous in the history of the IAF”, concludes Colonel N. “I think that combat soldiers are expected to do just that: risk their lives for the mission and for their friends”.
A Natural Phenomenon over Damascus
In the noon of October 9th, 1973, the fourth day of the “Yom-Kippur” War, eight F-4 Phantom jets took off from Tel-Nof Airbase. The target: The Syrian headquarters in the fortified capital Damascus.
The 16 pilots and weapon-officers encountered heavy clouds and flew into the skies silently. One of the jets had to return back to base due to a malfunction. “The entire mission was fog-shrouded but we kept on”, tells Colonel (Res.) Omri Afek, the leader of the second flight formation. The weather was awful and the clouds blocked the flight paths. In spite of the severe weather, octet commander Colonel (Res.) Arnon Lapidot (Levushin) elevated its jet above the clouds, followed by the other pilots.
“It is very dangerous to fly above the clouds and not being able to look down. The situation was very stressful”, recalls Colonel (Res.) Afek. “We took a major detour to avoid the Syrian SAM batteries”.
Around 12:00 PM, the seven Phantoms approached the target but the sky was still covered with clouds.
And then, in the blink of an eye, the weather changed. “Due to an apparently well-known natural phenomenon, the cloudy skies have suddenly gone clear and the clouds lifted”.
The jets dove toward the Syrian headquarters and dropped tons of bombs which caused severe damages. But immediately after the attack, the Syrians opened fire and dozens of missiles started flying toward the jets.
The jet of Colonel (Res.) Afek suffered a direct hit and was later hit by another missile. Nevertheless, Colonel (Res.) Afek insisted on landing it while the jet was on fire and with no useable breaks.
“I didn’t use the ejection seat even after ten hits and I’m happy for that”.
He was later awarded with the IDF “Medal of Distinguished Service”.