Ejecting from your aircraft in enemy territory is probably the most frightening scenario a pilot can experience. How does a pilot feel after ejecting in enemy territory? How do aircrews prepare for such a scenario and should they flee from their captors or wait for their rescuers?

Zohar Boneh | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida

On October 16, 1986, during an aerial attack on terror targets in Lebanon, an F-4 “Phantom” was damaged as a result of a technical malfunction when one of its bombs exploded under its wing. Both aircrew members ejected: Maj. (Res.) Yihsay Aviram and WSO Lt. Col. Ron Arad, who was taken captive.

Following his ejection, Maj. (Res’) Yishay Aviram wrote in his book “Pressure Suit”:

“And then the explosion happened. It was like something from the books. I was sure I was dead. I heard a great ‘boom’ and didn’t see anything. Not my hands, not the instruments, not the jet. Just fire, flaming. I felt like I exploded and evaporated. I lay on my back, spun upwards and was collected to my ancestors… The red changed to black, what further strengthened the feeling that I was dead. I thought about the fact that I always wanted to see what death looked like – well, this is how it looks like… I was very calm. I wasn’t afraid. And then I woke from this euphoria. Someone or something – I don’t know what or how – pulled me and to my surprise I saw that I was hanging from a parachute. I was very surprised to find out that I was alive and all and said thank you. The transition was very sharp: from supremacy and great control of an aircraft, to a tremendous disadvantage and exposed to every wind”.

“The wind carried me and I found myself rolling into the slope of a valley. I fell into a horrible thicket, of something like raspberry. It was the best hiding place I had ever found. I couldn’t bare but remember all of the games of hide and seek I played as a child, but this time I felt like I was taking part in the real game – with my life at stake. The valley channel was full of prickly bushes and it was impossible to walk in. I crawled into the most tangled area I found and hid under three meters of raspberry and a meter and a half of leaves”.

“I lay between the bushes. I had no doubt I would be captured. I said to myself, that I can only postpone it, but I felt like I couldn’t, that I would be captured much before, because the conditions got worse and worse. The terrorists saw where I fell and started coming down from all sides. They shot at the bushes that were on the way and got closer and closer to me. I became smaller and smaller. I hid and kept completely silent. I think they reached a distance of no more than one hundred meters from me. Because of the depth and steepness of the valley it was difficult to enter it”.

“The moment of capture – that I was certain that was going to come – frightened me dearly, because it could have ended in death. It is a moment that is difficult to comprehend. I thought all kinds of thoughts, like that I would finally lose weight. I tried to think of the positive sides of captivity, because it was clear to me that it was coming. I thought about my family being miserable. But suddenly, IAF fighter jets arrived and started shooting. The shooting quieted the terrorists around me. I think they ran away because I heard the voices moving away”.

“The situation improved. The feeling that the whole IAF was behind me is an awesome feeling. It changed the picture from side to side. I saw that they were prepared to do everything for me: sniping and taking risks and protecting me. My heart soared. My despair slowly became hope. I thought about the possibility that I would be rescued, but it seemed very imaginative that a helicopter would enter an area like this. One bullet was enough to down it. I opened a ‘window’ between the bushes in order to look outside and then I heard the noise of helicopters. I looked through the crack and saw them circling above”.

How does a Downed Pilot Feel?

IAF Magazine Archive

“You’ll think of home, of survival”
“There are many things that may bother you as a pilot that ejected from you aircraft”, shares Lt. Col. Gil, Commander of the Cooperation Instruction center and a WSO from the “Valley” Squadron. “You will think of home, of survival, you will think about what might happen now. You are probably hurt, unaware of your exact location and with very little equipment”.

In practice, the ejection begins when you are in the air, from that point you need to be vigilant, despite the difficult situation. You have to find the best place to hide in, far away from population centers, villages, cities and military forces. “The best place to eject over, is the ocean”, explains Lt. Col. Gil. “Our naval vessels and aircraft will arrive much faster than random boats that were on the beach. In the event that you eject over enemy territory, you have to run to the most difficult place to run to and hide in the most difficult place to enter”.

“It very well might be, that despite the difficulty and the physical and mental situation you are in, you won’t have a choice but to run and run for your life”, said Lt. Col. Gil. “You face a dilemma, between wanting the aerial force to find you, between fearing that the enemy force will find you, the place that you will look for will be one in which you will not be seen, but you will see as much as possible, so you will be able to describe the area to the forces looking for you on the radio”.

How does a Downed Pilot Feel?

IAF Magazine Archive

A notepad, a little water and a rubber boat
A downed aircrew member has a very small amount of supplies he carries with him, with which he takes off with for every sortie. Inside his flight suit there are a notepad and a general map of the area in which the flight will take place. In the vest he carries, among other things, a short range communicator that can communicate with the fighter jets and helicopters. Additionally, he has a small amount of water, food, a blanket and a rubber boat.

“When an aircraft arrives in his range, the downed pilot will hear it attempting to contact him and will have to try to describe his location based on what he sees. Many aircraft arrive in the area to search for him and there are usually a lot of people on the radio, so we have to make sure to be careful. All this time, he is hiding and knows that if anyone approaches his area, will be chased away by fighter jet and helicopters. Nevertheless, he will emerge only when he sees the helicopter that has arrived to rescue him”.

How does a Downed Pilot Feel?

IAF Magazine Archive