1986: Rescue on the Skid of a Cobra

On a clear October afternoon, a freak accident caused the loss of an IAF Phantom over southern Lebanon. During a strike against a terrorist base near the coastal city of Tyre, a malfunctioning fuse caused the Phantom’s bombs to detonate as they separated from the aircraft, blowing the aircrew from the cockpit. The navigator, Maj. Ron Arad, parachuted safely but was immediately captured. The pilot came down in thick vegetation on the wall of a steep wadi, setting the stage for a dramatic rescue operation.

Terrorists from rival factions raced to capture the prized Israeli airman, hidden among raspberry bushes in the proverbial briar patch. They passed within 100 meters, shooting their automatic weapons in his general direction. The pilot was sure he didn’t have a chance.

Immediately after the ejection, the IAF scrambled everything it had in the area towards the site. Fighters and Cobra attack helicopters coordinated perfectly, strafing at low altitude at great personal risk to keep the terrorists at bay. In the meantime, the pilot managed to scale halfway up the steep canyon wall until he reached a small cliff.

Ideally, a rescue helicopter would have picked up the downed crew member. But with tracers flying in all directions, the lead Cobra pilot decided to make his own way towards the homing signals from his comrade’s survival radio. Ignoring electrical problems of his own, he pressed closer and closer, following the Phantom pilot’s directions: “A bit forward … two meters to the right … hold it right there…” While the Cobra hovered, the downed pilot leapt onto the skid, grabbing it with one arm as he shouted into his hand-held radio, “Go, go, go!”

The Cobra slowly made its way out with the pilot dangling precariously from the skid. Bullets rained from above and below. After reaching the coast they set down twice, hoping to transfer the survivor to a rescue chopper. However, each time enemy fire prevented this move and the Phantom pilot remained perched on the skid until reaching Israeli territory.