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A Miraculous Extraction Release date 02.12.2018
A whole decade after 2008 Operation "Cast Lead", which began on the holiday of Hanukkah, MSgt. (Res') Ziv Biton – a combatant from IAF SAR (Search-and-Rescue) Unit 669 – shared his personal holiday miracle with the IAF Site. During a special extraction operation in the Gaza Strip, MSgt. (Res') Biton performed a surgical operation in near pitch-dark conditions and saved the life of one of his fellow commandos
Yael Fuchs

"Something happened during the flight – it was extraordinary, and to this day I still can't explain it clearly", said MSgt. (Res') Ziv Biton, a former IAF SAR (Search-and-Rescue) Unit 669 commando. January 2009, the third week of Operation "Cast Lead". IDF ground forces are fighting deep in the Gaza Strip. MSgt. Biton and his SAR Unit 669 crewmates are on ready alert in Palmahim AFB. It is the 25th year of his reserve service in the unit.

Photography: Nir Ben-Yosef

"During wartime, sometimes there are casualties which require extraction. Luckily, there weren't many casualties in critical condition throughout the operation, which meant that each one of the unit's reserve service members was recruited for approximately one week before going back home", elaborated MSgt. (Res') Biton. "At around 2AM we receive a notification regarding four casualties whose status was unknown".

The crew runs to the helicopter; the pilots turn the engine on and begin collecting details regarding the event during the flight: four IDF soldiers were hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) – one was in critical condition while the others were in serious and moderate conditions.

MSgt. (Res') Ziv Biton | Photo courtesy of the interviewee

Time is of the essence in this situation. "The area is full of threats and the pilots on the radio ask for more details: where can they enter the area and when should they cross the border. The aircrew members onboard choose a rallying point for the ground force – somewhere on the shoreline in the northern part of the Strip", recalled MSgt. (Res') Biton. The ground forces transport the casualties to the rallying point via APVs (Armoured Personal Carriers). "We understand through the conversations on the radio that there's a casualty in critical condition and that they're fighting for his life. Maj. (Res') A', the attending, was onboard with me and we prepared for the worst". The two agreed that paramedic MSgt. (Res') Biton will treat the critical casualty, seeing as he was experienced in the field of airway management. At the same time, Maj. (Res') A' would care for the other casualties.

Archive Photo

"We land in complete darkness and the casualties are quickly brought into the helicopter", elaborated MSgt. (Res') Biton. The crew closes the helicopter doors and immediately takes off towards Israel. "The helicopter is still shrouded with complete darkness. I can't understand what's going on in front of me and I try to carefully feel my way around. After turning on a red light inside, I see the casualty for the first time", described MSgt. (Res') Biton. "He was in a very severe situation with grave damage caused to his face, jaw, skull and neck. I saw that attempts were made to intubate him, but they failed as a result of his wounds".

17 Minutes
MSgt. (Res') Biton didn't want to waste precious time and began performing a coniotomy – a form of tracheotomy meant to assist in insertion of the tracheal tube. "I make an incision and insert the tube into the casualty's airway. These moments are critical", evoked MSgt. (Res') Biton. "I begin intubating him and it works, though his pulse is very low. We usually never perform such operations during flight. There were 15 minutes in which he didn't breathe at all. There were 17 minutes of flight, 17 minutes in which we fought for his life. When we took him in, he was practically almost dead".

Archive Photo

The helicopter lands in the medical center, surrounded by ambulances, and the casualty in critical condition is taken into intensive care. "The hospital's emergency staff thought he couldn't make it. I explained everything we did up until that moment. Then, we took our equipment and went back to the squadron".

"We prayed that he would make it"
After the helicopter crew returned to Palmahim AFB, the combatants remained on ready alert in preparation for the next extraction. "We prayed that all our efforts would succeed and that he would survive. From that moment on, we monitored him every day. We heard news from the hospital that he was improving, and ten days later he regained consciousness. We couldn't believe it".

Photography: Celia Garion

MSgt. (Res') Biton and Maj. (Res') A' went to visit the casualty, Aharon Karov. "We entered his room in the hospital – he was waiting for us there with his eyes open, still connected to the medical systems after his surgery. He wasn't at his best, but he was conscious. It was one of the most exciting days of my life", said MSgt. (Res') Biton. "From that moment on, we connected with Aharon. We would see him for months afterwards and a friendship soon formed. Six months later, he was discharged from the hospital and continued living a normal life".

MSgt. (Res') Ziv Biton and Aharon Karov | Photo courtesy of the interviewee

Aharon went on to start a family, and continued to speak of his rehabilitation years later. "The credit for his rehabilitation goes to him and him alone. We were just there in the battlefield to help him stay for a while", said MSgt. (Res') Biton. "Every person has a moment in their lives where they have to give their all. This was my moment. Luckily, it was in order to save this person. I worked in this field for years, and all of it led up to that moment, in which I was required to give everything I had".