Michel Bacos died this week at age 95. He deserves to be remembered:
If Bacos’s name is unfamiliar to most readers, it’s not surprising. He was something of a footnote to history, a supporting player in a drama that starred other people. But his role in the story of the rescue of the passengers of an Air France plane that was hijacked to Entebbe, Uganda, deserves to be both remembered and retold.
Bacos was the pilot of Air France Flight 139 that took off from Ben-Gurion International Airport on June 27, 1976, bound for Paris with a stopover in Athens. It was during the stop in Athens that the plane took on four terrorists—two Palestinians and two Germans—who seized control and diverted it to Libya and then to Uganda.
It was in Uganda where, operating with the permission of dictator Idi Amin, the terrorists took the passengers and crew off the plane, and imprisoned them as hostages at Entebbe airport. There, acting in a manner reminiscent of the Holocaust, the hijackers separated the Jews from the non-Jews among the passengers.
But when the hijackers chose to release the non-Jews, Bacos and his crew were presented with a choice. The German and Palestinian terrorists were ready to free them along with the other non-Jews that had been on the plane. But in act of quiet heroism and self-sacrifice that the Entebbe survivors have never forgotten, Bacos told the hijackers that he would not leave without his Jewish and Israeli passengers. The rest of his crew followed his lead and faced the real possibility of death, either at the hands of the hijackers or from the mentally unstable Amin, who had similarly threatened to kill them.
Under difficult conditions and with the threat of murder always present, Bacos stayed with the Jews until Israeli rescuers arrived on July 4 (the American bicentennial, of all days). The lightning raid (indeed, it was called “Operation Thunderbolt”) liberated the hostages after a fierce battle in which the terrorists and 21 of their Ugandan allies were killed. The one Israeli death was the leader of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit that carried out the rescue, Yonatan Netanyahu, whose younger brother would one day become Israel’s prime minister.
In the years that followed the drama at Entebbe, Bacos lived a full and rich life with his wife and children, and returned often to Israel, befriending in particular one of the Israeli rescuers who had been paralyzed by gunfire from the Ugandans.
Nor had this been the first time he had acted courageously. As a teenager during World War II, he had run away from home to join the Free French forces battling the Germans and became an officer.
Go here to read the rest. May his gallant soul now be enjoying the Beatific Vision.