Michel Bacos, the Air France pilot who, along with his crew, stayed with Israeli and Jewish hostages during the July 1976 hijacking that diverted the plane to Uganda’s Entebbe Airport, died in the French city of Nice on Tuesday at the age of 95.
Some 260 people were on the flight from Tel Aviv to Paris that made a stop in Athens, where four hijackers—two from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-External Operations and two Germans from the leftist terrorist group German Revolutionary Cells—got on board. They demanded that 40 Palestinian and other terrorists behind bars in Israel be released in exchange for those on the plane, which they forced to land in Uganda, where they took the passengers hostage.
“I told my crew that we must stay until the end because that was our tradition, so we cannot accept being freed,” Bacos told the BBC. “All my crew agreed without exception.”
After six days in captivity, Israeli commandos, led by Israel Defence Forces’s officer Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, who led the elite unit Sayeret Matkal, rescued 102 of the 106 hostages. Netanyahu was the only IDF fatality in what was called “Operation Entebbe” (also “Operation Thunderbolt”).
Multiple feature films have been made of the historic hijacking and ensuing military rescue, both in Hebrew and English, the most recent being the 2018 “Entebbe.”
Netanyahu’s younger brother, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed his condolences over Bacos’s passing.
“Michel Bacos, the hero of the Air France aircraft abducted in Entebbe, passed away. He refused to leave his Jewish and Israeli passengers, even though the kidnappers offered him this. He remained with them through all their hardships, until the soldiers under the command of my brother Yoni was released in a daring operation. I bow to his memory and salute Michel’s bravery,” he tweeted.
One of the former Israeli hostages, Benny Davidson, who was 13 years old then, remembered Bacos as “a dear man and a great hero.”