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Turbulence Ahead

Machla Abramovitz

Thirty-eight years ago, Michel Bacos took the controls of Air France flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris. Landing in Entebbe was not on the flight plan.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

On June 27, 1976, during a routine flight fromTelAviv toParis, Palestinian and German terrorists stormed the cockpit of an Air France Airbus A300 and commandeered the plane to Entebbe, Uganda. At the time of the hijacking, which occurred just after a short stopover in Athens, there were 246 passengers and 12 crew members on board. Eight days later, on July 4, Israel launched Operation Thunderbolt, the famed mission that resulted in the rescue of over 100 hostages, the majority of whom were Jewish. It’s been 38 years since the hijacking, but AirFrance pilotCaptainMichelBacos, 90, still remembers that horrendous week as if it were yesterday. Speaking from his home in Nice, France, Bacos comes across as charming and friendly, with a wry sense of humor. A hero in his own right, he was awardedFrance’s highest decoration, the National Order of the Legion of Honor, for refusing to abandon his post and standing by his plane and its passengers. A bomber pilot during World War II, he saw action over the skies of North Africa, fighting forFrance’s Forces Françaises Libres. At the time of the hijacking, Bacos had clocked 32 years of flight time. Married, with three sons and many grandchildren, he has the greatest admiration for one particular Israeli commando, Sorin Herschu, who was paralyzed from the neck down after being struck by a Ugandan bullet during the operation. He and his family have visited Herschu often over the years. Occasionally, Bacos even receives an e-mail. Herschu manipulates the keyboard through a tiny stick that he places in his mouth. Since Entebbe, and especially after retiring in 1984, Bacos has become a sought-after speaker and addressed many forums. In 1977, at the request of AirFrance, he recounted his experiences in front of an assembly of aviation specialists interested in revamping aviation laws dealing with security issues. The Israel government and many Jewish organizations have recognized Bacos for his bravery. Is there any event from that fateful week that especially stands out in his mind? “When the shooting began, I remember thinking, ‘Tzahal is here to rescue us. Who else but the Israelis could it be?’ ” 

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