Israeli and French officials Wednesday mourned the death of Michel Bacos, the Air France pilot who along with his crew insisted on remaining with Israeli and Jewish hostages after pro-Palestinian terrorists hijacked his flight and diverted the plane to Entebbe Airport in 1976. He died in Nice on Tuesday at the age of 95.
On June 27, 1976, Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France jet flying from Tel Aviv to Paris. The plane was diverted to Uganda, where the hijackers were welcomed by dictator Idi Amin.
The terrorists freed the non-Jewish passengers immediately upon arrival but the Air France crew members, with the captain at their head, refused the captors’ offer of release and instead chose to remain as hostages with the plane’s Jewish passengers.
On July 4, 98 of the hostages were rescued in an operation by elite Israeli commandos. Four hostages lost their lives along with the mission commander Yonatan Netanyahu, elder brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bacos was eulogized by Netanyahu, who called him the “hero captain.”
“I bow to his memory and salute Michel’s bravery,” Netanyahu tweeted.
“He refused to leave his Jewish and Israeli passengers, even though the hijackers offered him the option. He remained with them through all their suffering, until IDF soldiers under the command of my brother Yoni freed them in a daring operation.”
The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, issued a statement praising Bacos’s bravery.
“Michel, bravely refusing to give in to anti-Semitism and barbarism, did honor to France,” Estrosi said. “The love of France and the defense of liberties have marked his destiny.”
Bacos was at the controls of Air France Flight 139 with 246 passengers and a crew of 12. The plane stopped in Athens to pick up more passengers, among them three Germans and a Palestinian who hijacked the plane and forced it to fly to Entebbe, Uganda, where more terrorists were waiting. When the terrorists separated the non-Jewish and non-Israeli passengers and let them go, Bacos refused to leave and insisted on staying with the Israeli and Jewish hostages.
“It was out of the question for me to abandon my passengers. All of them needed to be freed,” Bacos said in 2016 when he received the American Jewish Congress Moral Courage Award for his role in what the AJC called “one of the most daring and successful hostage rescue missions in history.”
After days of tension and failed negotiations Israel staged an unprecedented rescue operation, flying an elite commando team 4,000 kilometers (2,400 miles) to Uganda. After a brief firefight, the hostages were freed, loaded on the waiting Israeli Air Force planes and flown to Israel.
For his bravery, Bacos was recognized by the government of Israel as well as of France, which awarded him the National Order of the Legion of Honor, the country’s highest honor.
Israel’s Consul General in New York Dani Dayan tweeted that Bacos’s passing marked the “death of a hero…We salute you, Captain.”
The Israel Airline Pilots Association praised his commitment to his passengers, tweeting: “Rest in Peace Captain Bacos, the Israeli Airline Pilots salute you.”
Born in Egypt, Bacos served in the French military in World War II under Charles de Gaulle before becoming a civilian pilot at the war’s end.
He retired from Air France in 1982 and lived in the French city of Nice. He is survived by his wife, Rosemary, three sons and several grandchildren.