'This isn't our typical mission'

Unit 669 braves rain and darkness in Romania.

By YAAKOV KATZ JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
July 29, 2010 00:35
3 minute read.
A rescue helicopter hovers in the mountainous area near the Transylvanian town of Bran, Romania, Tue

Romania 2 311. (photo credit: Dover IDF)

BOBOC, Romania – The Sikorsky CH-53 Yasour helicopters warmed up their engines and at 6 a.m. took off from the Romanian Air Force base, near the city of Boboc, to the Carpathian Mountains to bring their comrades home.

Before boarding, the commander of the Israel Air Force elite search-and-rescue Unit 669, Lt.-Col. A., gathered his troops and gave one last briefing.

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“We are used to saving lives, and this is not our typical mission,” he said, according to one officer present at the briefing.

“I personally knew the pilots who were killed in the crash. Our motto is that we do not leave any wounded behind, and in the same way today, we will not leave any of the dead behind.”

The young soldiers were prepared for what was ahead, eager to assist in bringing their fallen comrades to rest back in Israel. While this was indeed not their typical mission, the elite group of soldiers had undergone years of training that made them the right force to send rappelling down ropes into the ravine where the remains of the ill-fated Yasour helicopter were scattered, and to search for the bodies of the six IAF servicemen and the Romanian soldier killed on Monday.

Unit 669 was founded after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, with the mandate of extricating pilots who fall into enemy territory. Their main mode of transportation is the Yasour helicopter.

The soldiers from Unit 669 were accompanied on their mission by members of the IDF Chaplaincy Corps and officers from the IAF’s Safety Division.

The helicopters landed at an old cottage about a kilometer and a half from the scene of the crash.

The rescuers had to go the rest of the way on foot, up steep mountains and through streams, some of which had to be crossed by impromptu bridges made of ladders taken from the helicopters.

The crash site was a difficult scene to behold. The remains of the helicopter were scatted over an area the size of a football field, and the soldiers worked around the clock to collect both the servicemen’s remains and the pieces of the helicopter required by the IAF to properly investigate the cause of the crash.

The feeling among the soldiers was difficult.

“Some hoped that a miracle was still possible, but we knew what our mission was and what we would need to do,” a commander from the unit said.

One of his main concerns was the weather. The other was the darkness. The weather worked against the team, which was drenched by the end of the operation.

But they succeeded in retrieving all of the bodies by the end of the day and returned to the base in Boboc before dark.

The soldiers worked with such motivation that the Unit 669 commander had to stop them every once in a while and order them to drink.

St.-Sgt. M., commander of the Oketz canine team, said that the dogs were key to the mission’s success.

“There were places that we would not have been able to get to without the dogs’ assistance,” M.

said. “We arrived focused on our goal – to assist in the searches and to help retrieve what needed to be brought back to Israel.”


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