Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin visits the wounded pilot on February 11th, 2018..
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
“[We heard] an explosion and realized we were hit,” said the pilots during their post-mission questioning, Channel 2 reported on Sunday. “It’s a very uncomfortable feeling, this loss of control. It's not a long process and there is no time. Mere seconds. We knew that we must be quick and abandon [the jet] because we suffered physical injury and also because the plane had been hit and stopped functioning.”
The two pilots were forced to evacuate their F-16 jet after a mission over Syria, in which the Israel Air Force struck various Iranian targets after an Iranian drone from Syria entered Israeli airspace on Saturday morning.
The Syrian army claims it was able to hit the Israeli jet with surface-to-air missiles.
“The missile exploded at some distance from the jet and its shrapnel caused the plane enough damage,” said the pilot. “Luck also played a part here... the force of the blast could have killed us.”
Major-General and IAF training wing head Amnon Ein Dar stood by the decisions the pilots made to abandon the jet.
“Once the plane was no longer manageable they decided to evacuate. This was the right decision,” he said.
The IAF is looking into various other explanations as to why the incident occurred. For example, they are examining the possibility that the team was so focused on the mission that they missed a warning signal that they were within the sights of the Syrian missile, or perhaps they could have avoided the shooting down of the plane by operating differently.
The two-man team, a navigator and a pilot, were evacuated to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa
. The navigator was lightly injured and released from hospital on Sunday, while the pilot, who was severely wounded, is in stable condition.