Air Force Commander Tells Pilot: You Did the Right Thing By Abandoning Plane

YERUSHALAYIM -
Old army trenches near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights, seen on Sunday. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

On a visit to the Israeli Air Force pilot who was badly wounded in the destruction of an Iranian drone that had entered Israeli airspace and the subsequent downing of a plane that was shooting down the drone by Syrian missiles, Israel Air Force Commander General Amikam Norkin said that the pilot had done the right thing by ejecting himself and his copilot from the plane.

The pilot, who had been badly injured, regained consciousness Sunday, and by Monday morning his condition had been upgraded to moderately injured. The copilot, who was lightly injured in the incident, was released from the hospital Sunday night. “From the moment you realized what was happening, you realized that you had to abandon the plane,” Norkin told the pilot. “You thus saved your own life and the life of your copilot.”

In the incident early Shabbos, an Iranian drone was detected over Israeli airspace in the Golan Heights. The IDF shot down the drone, and dispatched a battery of planes to attack the Tadmor air base in Syria, where the drone was dispatched from, and several other targets in Syria. The Israeli planes were met with a barrage of missiles fired by Syria, one of which hit an F-16 jet that had a crew of two. The two pilots ejected themselves from the plane over Israeli territory, and were quickly taken to the hospital by rescue forces. Parts of the destroyed Israeli plane were found in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Meanwhile, Israeli planes continued their attack on Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria. According to Channel Two, the IDF destroyed about half of Syria’s air power in the counterattack. Most of the missiles fired at the Israeli planes were of Russian manufacture, the IDF said Saturday night, with the missile that hit the Israeli fighter jet an older version of a missile. In the Israeli counterattack, IDF planes destroyed several key Syrian missile systems, including new SA-17 systems just recently delivered by Russia.

While Israeli officials said that they were satisfied with the results of the counterattack, they expressed concern and disappointment over the destruction of the Israeli fighter jet – the first time in decades that an Israeli plane had been lost in battle. The loss of the Israeli plane was taken by Syrians as a cause for celebration, and footage broadcast in Syrian media showed people distributing candies and celebrating the loss of the Israeli plane.

A full investigation of the incident is underway. According to officials, it appears that the missile exploded somewhere near the plane, breaking the plane’s window and causing injury to the pilot. The officials said that if the missile had actually hit the plane, the results would have been far worse, with the pilot and copilot having no opportunity to leave the plane.