Israel Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin praised Maj. A for deciding to eject from his F-16 after being hit by anti-aircraft fire on Shabbat, and said the spur-of-the-moment decision likely saved his life and that of his navigator.
“As soon as you realized you had to abandon the plane, you made the right decision, thereby saving the navigator’s life and your own life,” Norkin told the pilot during a visit to the pilot, who is recovering from the crash at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
The hospital said in a statement that the pilot’s condition has improved. The navigator, who was lightly wounded, has already been discharged.
“There was an explosion, and we realized that we had been hit by a Syrian missile,” the navigator told Hebrew-language media. “It’s a very uncomfortable feeling, a feeling of loss control.”
The navigator also said the decision to abandon the plane was “immediate. You realize that you have to hurry up and eject, both because of the damage to the plane and the physical injuries (that we both sustained)… (the pilot) was conscious and we coordinated the ejection between us, from the preparation, examining the seating position and pressing our arms together so we wouldn’t get hurt. We repeated the orders over the intercom and then activated the ejector seat.”
“Such a strong blast near the plane could have killed us. Nevertheless, the missile exploded at a certain distance from the plane, and the shrapnel caused enough damage,” he said.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein Dar said on Sunday that Israel has carried thousands of operations in Syria over the past year, adding that while the air force is not “happy” to have lost a fighter jet, the military would study the incident in order to learn from it.