Pilot downed in Saturday Syria strike out of intensive care
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Pilot downed in Saturday Syria strike out of intensive care

Condition of airman who ejected from F-16 that was struck by anti-aircraft fire ‘continues to improve,’ doctors expect him to recover

Air Force head Amiram Norkin, left, and an unidentified officer, right, visiting an injured pilot in Rambam Hospital in Haifa on February 11, 2018, in a picture released by the IDF on February 12, 2018. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Air Force head Amiram Norkin, left, and an unidentified officer, right, visiting an injured pilot in Rambam Hospital in Haifa on February 11, 2018, in a picture released by the IDF on February 12, 2018. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

The wounded pilot who ejected from his damaged F-16 fighter jet on Saturday after it was struck by shrapnel from Syrian anti-aircraft fire is out of intensive care and recuperating in the surgery unit of Haifa’s Rambam Hospital.

His condition was characterized by doctors as “good,” and he is expected to recover from his wounds.

“He was moved to a regular ward and his condition continues to improve,” a hospital spokesperson said.

The pilot was seriously injured in the incident, in which the jet crashed in a ball of flames into a hillside in northern Israel. His condition stabilized after emergency surgery at Rambam stopped bleeding in his abdomen.

The plane’s navigator, who also ejected, was lightly injured in the incident and has since been released from the hospital.

The head of Israel’s air force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, visited the injured pilot on Sunday and praised his decision to eject from the damaged F-16.

“From the moment you understood that you needed to abandon the plane you made the right decision, and saved the life of the major and of yourself,” Norkin told the pilot, according to an IDF statement on Monday.

President Reuven Rivlin visiting IDF pilots injured when their F-16 was hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire, February 11, 2018. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

In transcripts leaked to Hadashot news Sunday, the airmen say they had mere seconds to eject from the plane after a missile exploded alongside them.

“There is no long process and also there is no time. A few seconds. The understanding [was] that we need to quickly abandon, as a result of the physical damage to us and also as a result of the damage to the plane that ceased to function,” one of the two is quoted as saying.

Neither the pilot nor the navigator has been identified in keeping with IDF policy.

The jet crashed into a hillside near Kibbutz Harduf in northern Israel, only a few hundred meters from homes and buildings. The wreck was caught on video.

Nobody on the ground was hurt in the incident, which came amid a round of intense hostilities Saturday sparked when an Iranian drone infiltrated Israeli airspace, triggering Israeli airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria.

One resident of Harduf told Army Radio Saturday that she was sure their community was under terrorist attack after hearing the loud noise that shook the kibbutz.

A picture taken in the northern Israeli Kibbutz of Harduf on February 10, 2018, shows the remains of an F-16 that crashed after coming under fire by Syrian air defenses (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

If the plane was indeed downed, it would be the first such incident for Israel since 1982.

Investigators are still reviewing exactly how the plane was hit and are reportedly probing whether there were any technical failures, such as some of the F-16’s early warning systems not working correctly. The preliminary results of the investigation are reportedly due to be released later Monday.

Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar, the Israeli Air Force’s second-in-command, said the Israeli planes faced a massive barrage of Syrian anti-aircraft fire, which reportedly included at least four different types of Russian-made air defense systems, specifically the SA-5, SA-17, SA-6 and SA-3.

A Lockheed Martin F-16I ‘Soufa’ takes off during the IDF/AF flight school’s 156th graduation ceremony. (Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash 90)

Hadashot and Channel 10 TV on Sunday both speculated that the pilots may have been so focused on attacking their targets that they failed to internalize the extent of the danger posed by what one TV report said were dozens of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles fired toward them.

The pilots did eventually become aware of the incoming missiles, and managed to avoid several, the Hadashot report said.

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