Although perhaps no longer a household name, a hero died last week. His name was Michel Bacos. He was an Air France pilot.
Bacos was captain of Air France 139 on June 27, 1976, heading from Tel Aviv to Paris. The flight had stopped in Athens to pick up more passengers. Just eight minutes after takeoff from Athens the flight was hijacked and with a gun pointed to his head, Bacos was ordered to fly to Benghazi, Libya.
After refueling there, the flight continued to Entebbe, Uganda, then ruled by Idi Amin. The hijackers demanded the release of Palestinian militants in Israel plus $5MN in cash or else they would start to kill the Jewish hostages.
Jews and non-Jews were separated. Those passengers who were not Jewish were freed. Bacos and his crew were invited to leave as well.
But Bacos refused to leave.
I told my crew that we must stay until the end, because that was our tradition, so we cannot accept being freed. All my crew agreed without exception.
So the crew stayed behind with their Jewish passengers. Days later on July 4, 1976, the Israelis launched Operation Entebbe. 102 of the 106 hostages were rescued.
As a sign of respect, Captain Bacos was placed in the cockpit by Israeli commandos on the flight back to Tel Aviv.
I happened to hear this story while listening to Scott Simon’s weekly “Simon Says” commentary on NPR’s Weekend Edition. What a touching testament to Bacos’ character. Born in Egypt (his father was working on the Suez Canal project), he fought for the Free French Forces in World War II and later flew for Air France. He died on March 26, 2019 but will be properly remembered as a hero.
image: Michel Gilliand / Wikimedia Commons