Recently, in a training exercise lead by Southern Command, multiple forces trained for the scenario of a hijacked aircraft landing in Ouvda AFB. The IDF is required to commandeer it and release the hostages. “This is an event of a national scale”
Nadav Shaham | Translation: Ofri Aharon
An exercise led by the Southern Command, that simulated the landing of a hijacked airliner in Ouvda AFB was recently held and was the first of its kind in five years. The complex exercise required the cooperation of multiple forces, among them the IAF and Police, to commandeer the hijacked aircraft, release the hostages and thwart an attack in the airport.
So what does the IAF’s southernmost AFB look like in one of the most challenging and complex training exercise it has experienced in the past few years?
12:35 – The Picture Changes
The blazing desert sun illuminates the skies of Ouvda AFB and a quick look around reveals the incredible view of the Negev desert and Eilat Mountains. The AFB is silent other than the sound of activity from the cadets, everything seems normal. Suddenly, at 12:25, the picture changes. The base’s senior commanders receive an alert that a hijacked aircraft is about to land on base. Quickly, the AFB’s security forces deploy. The operation room begins receiving information about the aircraft: it is an “Air Europa” airliner, traveling from Barcelona with 100 passengers, 66 of which are Israeli and four aircrew members. The tower is in contact with the hijackers and is trying to make sure they land safely in the base. “Our job is to manage the runway area so the hijackers won’t feel threatened, while attempting to prevent dangerous incidents”, explained Lt. Or Sigawi, Ouvda AFB Control Tower Commander.
14:30 – Evaluating the Situation
Forces from the Southern Command led by Brig. Gen. Raffi Milo, the Commander of the 80th “Edom” Division, Operators from the “Rimon” Commando Unit and the Eilat Counterterrorism Unit, enter the AFB and prepare for the aircraft’s landing. Simultaneously, a skilled hostage negotiation team arrives. At this point, the forces assemble to evaluate the situation: “The aircraft is cooperating with us. We are ready for its landing and the AFB personnel are deployed exactly where we told them to be”, said Col. Itamar, Ouvda AFB Commander. While evaluating the situation, at 14:30 the aircraft land on the AFB. “The biggest struggle now is stalling the situation”, stated Brig. Gen. Milo. “We want to buy time until the Special Police Unit arrives and will be ready to operate”.
20:20 – 18 Hostages Released
At 15:12 the negotiation team reports that three hostages have been killed. In addition, after a continuous effort from intel, members of the same terror organization in Europe are arrested, giving insight to the identity of the hijackers. The negotiations continue and the servicemen try to avoid escalating the situation until the special police forces are ready.
A few hours later, with great efforts from the negotiation team, at 20:20 18 hostages are released, injured at different levels. 10 of them are transported by BlackHawk helicopter from Ouvda AFB to Soroka Medical Center. Finnaly, the peak of the exercise arrives: gaining control over the hijacked aircraft. Multiple special police unit teams enter the aircraft, 4 hijackers are killed, 17 hostages are extracted 9 of which are injured.
“Ouvda AFB must be prepared to integrate a large amount of forces and aid in logistics”, explained Maj. Shlomi, Deputy Commander of the AFB’s Flight Squadron. “This is an event of a national scale that directly effects the country’s safety. The event is very challenging for the AFB and requires us to ensure there are ideal conditions on the base for the mission to be successful”, added Brig. Gen. Itamar, commander of the AFB.