We continue with Yediot Achronot's series on Operation Entebbe, as told by the Israeli commandos who rescued over 100 hostages during the 1976 raid. Today, they tell of coming under fire, destroying Uganda's fleet of fighter jets, and the urgent need to leave:
Eyal Yardenai, at the time a staff sergeant serving as a Land Rover driver in Rami Sherman's holding force, tells, "The control tower had a lot of windows and we came under extensive fire from there. I took the RPG launcher from the Land Rover and fired a rocket at the glass windows at the top of the tower. The angle was bad because I was standing right under the tower. The rocket connected and caused a huge explosion. A mushroom cloud of smoke rose over the tower, and from that moment it went silent, and no shots were fired from it. I'd used up all the ammunition I had except for the magazine I left in my vest's back pocket."
"I was supposed to get to the plaza outside the old terminal, check with Yoni if he needed me to join the ground assault, and if not, move east and get settled," recounts MK Omer Bar-Lev, who would go on to become the commander of Sayeret Matkal and at the time led a force on an armored vehicle. "I called Yoni on the comms, and he didn't answer. While we were under fire, Mofaz ordered me to keep moving east towards where I was supposed to thwart any possible reinforcements coming from the nearby military base. I had a big spotlight on my armored vehicle, and I aimed it at where the (Ugandan military) MiG planes were supposed to be. And, indeed, we saw them in two rows: One had five MiG 21s, and the other had three MiG 17s.
"The guys wanted to immediately open fire at them, but I decided to wait until the takeover of the old terminal was complete. We heard non-stop gunfire from the terminal. Every second felt like an hour, and we kept hearing more and more gunfire. After what felt like forever—it was silent. For a moment, we really thought something had gone wrong. And then the hostages started coming out, walking in an orderly fashion towards the Karnaf (the IDF’s nickname for the Hercules plane —ed.) that was nearing the terminal..."
At the same time, the troops inside the terminal began evacuating the hostages. Amos Goren, a staff sergeant in the team that stormed the passengers' hall where the hostages were kept recounts, "We told the hostages to get ready to leave and to not take anything with them. They were still in shock and looked confused. The gunfire outside continued on and off, but finally, the order to evacuate came. Several people started crawling towards the door—they were afraid to get up. We helped them to their feet and accompanied them to the exit, where the Land Rovers and a Peugeot truck with Golani troops were waiting."
Yardenai recalls, "When I got to the Land Rover, it was already packed with hostages who were sitting on top of each other and covering the entire vehicle from hood to bumper. I couldn't get to the driver's seat. I climbed in over the hood, stepping on some of the hostages in the process. I started the car but couldn't turn the steering wheel as one of the hostages was holding onto it with both hands while hanging onto the side of the Land Rover. I unclasped one of his hands by force, but he kept holding on with the other hand. While I was fighting him, without even seeing his face, I found myself thinking what must be going through his head. That he must have been thinking that the IDF came to rescue him, and now some cruel and inconsiderate soldier was forcefully pushing him off the Land Rover. To this day, I'm surprised that in the midst of battle, I found time to think about that.
"The pilot got the plane 500 meters from the terminal, and that's where I headed with the pile of hostages covering the Land Rover. When we got to the plane, the hostages got off. Then an injured man was brought in on a gurney (Surin Hershko, who was suffered a spinal injury from a bullet —ed.), which was laid down on the hood of the Land Rover before it was transferred onto the plane..."