A French pilot hailed for bravery during the hijacking drama targeting Jews on an Air France flight in 1976 has died aged 95, his son told AFP on Wednesday.
Michel Bacos was flying from Tel Aviv to Paris when Palestinian Arab and German terrorists hijacked the aircraft which was eventually flown to Entebbe in Uganda.
The former French Resistance fighter earned France’s highest award, the Legion d’Honneur, for refusing to leave the plane and ordering his crew to remain with Jewish passengers who were separated from non-Jews.
He died in the south of France where he had been living with his wife for the last 30 years, their son Eric Bacos told AFP.
The hostages were eventually freed after six days by Israeli commandos, who launched a raid that has since been re-told in multiple documentaries and films as one of the most famous special-forces operations in history.
The commandos freed all but four of 105 hostages, with the loss of one Israeli soldier, Yonatan Netanyahu, the brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In an interview with Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper in 2016, Bacos said that as he flew the plane a German hijacker “sat behind me with his gun pointed at my head.”
“Every time I tried to look in a different direction, he pressed the barrel of his gun against my neck.”
On arrival in Uganda, the hijackers separated passengers with Jewish names from the rest.
“I told the Palestinians and the Germans: ‘I’m responsible for all of the passengers and demand to be able to see all of them — be they Israeli or not — at any given moment.’ I insisted, and the Germans agreed.”
“As a former officer in the Free French Forces, I couldn’t imagine leaving behind not even a single passenger.”
Two weeks after the hijacking, Bacos was back at work and asked to fly to Israel “to see if I were still afraid.”
That flight, he said, “went without a hitch.”