Body of missing IAF 669 captain found in Laos

Avner Bardugo, 25, disappeared Fri. while kayaking; Israeli woman killed in Florida boating accident.

Avner Bardugo 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Avner Bardugo 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hope was replaced with grief Monday morning as the body of Avner Bardugo, a 25-year-old captain from the Israel Air Force's elite 669 search and rescue unit, was discovered during a rescue operation in the Laotian jungle. Posters with Bardugo's picture still hung on telephone poles and bus stops in his hometown of Ramat Yishai as his grief-stricken family began mourning their son. "We received word that the situation has changed," said Bardugo's mother, Rama, on Monday. "That's all I have to say for now." Bardugo had been missing since Friday, when his kayak overturned on the Mekong River near the town of Luang Prabang in the country's northwest. Friends and family had been holding out hope that he would be found alive and return safely to Israel. Sadly, it was Bardugo's body that was located Sunday, after a fisherman in the area notified search crews that a body had been seen near the shore. "From what I understand, he apparently hit his head and drowned," said Yossi Levi, a spokesman from the Foreign Ministry. "His body was identified soon after it was found, and arrangements are being made to bring him back to Israel for burial." A friend who was traveling with Bardugo, also from 669, made it to shore after their boat capsized and alerted authorities, who then mounted an initial search and rescue operation. Five of his comrades from 669 were among those dispatched from Israel to Laos the following day to assist the rescue team on the ground in locating their friend and commander. Working in close coordination with the soldiers from 669 was Magnus Search and Rescue, a private company based in Israel that employs ex-soldiers from the IDF and IAF for rescue missions all over the world. Using personnel on the ground and a helicopter in the air, the combined team combed the thick brush around the river for nearly three days before making their grim discovery. Rama Bardugo had told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Avner had taken six weeks' leave from the army to "clear his head a bit," before returning to Israel to continue his military service. He had been an exemplary soldier, finishing his mandatory stint in the Air Force before being accepted to both 669 and the General Staff's elite reconnaissance unit (Sayeret Matkal) - among the army's most highly regarded and most difficult to be accepted into. "He went to 669 because they accepted him without any preconditions," Rama said on Sunday. "But it was the best fit for him." Rama explained that Avner's character was such that he always helped others, without question, and the search and rescue aspect of the 669 unit had thrilled him. Avner's father passed away nine years ago, and his mother explained that he had taken up the task of helping raise his four siblings. "That's his personality," she said on Sunday. "He always helps others."