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Flash Flood Evacuation Release date 07.06.2018
Last April, SAR (Search-and-rescue) Unit 669 operators were scrambled to the scene of a flash flood in the southern area of the Aravah. 10 youths were killed in the flood and 13 were safely evacuated. The unit's operators told the IAF Site about the dramatic operation
Yael Fuchs

"An operator from my team went down into the flood and climbed into a niche in the rocks. There were four teens in a small slot in the rock waving at our helicopter. I saw the operator from my team sway from side to side on the cable and crash into the rocks again and again. The first one he evacuated was a girl who had been in the most severe condition. He did this four times in a row, evacuating each one of them. You see how dangerous this scenario is time after time". Those are the words of Maj. D', Deputy Commander of SAR (Search-and-rescue) Unit 669, who described the dramatic evacuation in the Aravah.


Photography: Haim Hornstein

Around noon on Thursday, April 26th, it was reported that a number of youths were caught in a flash flood in the Aravah. A medical crew from the "Bardelas" Battalion, three "Yas'ur" (Sea Stallion CH-53) and two "Yanshuf" (Black Hawk) helicopters with SAR Unit 669 operators were scrambled to the event, as well as a "Saraf" (AH-64D Apache Longbow) helicopter meant to comb the area and search for the missing youths. 10 youths were killed, two others were hurt and 13 were safely evacuated.


Archive Photo

Never Stop
"After an evacuation in Jerusalem, we received the order to fly south. The info was unclear and we didn't know what to expect", described Capt. A', a pilot at the 123rd ("Desert Birds") Squadron, who flew a "Yanshuf" transport helicopter in the event. "We later learned that there was a flash flood, which is considered an extreme event in the transport helicopter squadrons".


Photography: Ilan Assayag

"We managed to get a grasp of the weather before we arrived and the Air Traffic Control units helped us find appropriate flight paths", elaborated Lt. Col. G', Commander of the 124th ("Rolling Sword") Squadron, who was scrambled to the event alongside another pilot and two crew chiefs. "There were many helicopters in the area but we managed to synchronize. The river was divided into sections, so every helicopter was responsible for combing the area it was assigned".


Photography: Maayan Zafrani

“One of our most complex evacuations”
The search continued and the helicopter started to run out of fuel. “We understood who we were looking for and where they were supposed to be, approximately. When we spotted one of the teens, we lowered the stretcher and extracted him”, elaborated Lt. Col. G’. “When we landed after the evacuation, we met a crew of SAR Unit 669 operators whose helicopter had run out of fuel after several hours of searching. We loaded them onto our helicopter and continued the search”.


Archive Photo

At the same time, Maj. D’ and his crew continued to evacuate youths. “I have been a SAR Unit 669 operator for 15 years and this event was one of the most complex evacuations I have ever witnessed. I wasn’t sure it was possible”, revealed Maj. D’. “As the operator lowered himself to evacuate one of the teens, I pondered whether it was right to stop and think of a different solution, but I was sure that there was no other way. In the end, we succeeded”.

Many fears occupy the operator's mind as he goes down the shaking cable hanging from the helicopter. “I think you learn to fear for your life when you become an adult. That fear can be beneficial as long as it doesn't stop you from performing the mission”, stated Maj. D’. “Understanding the complexity of what you do improves your performance”.