Lost and Found

Aside from standard gathering operations, the UAV Squadron deals with other everyday issues. The First UAV Squadron and Search & Rescue Unit conducted a joint training session that simulated a scenario in which they must find missing persons

Mai Efrat

This was not an everyday operation. UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) operators are used to searching for other targets and gathering intelligence information. This time while sitting in a trailer, they aren’t looking for suspicious cars, missile launchers, or ammunition storage rooms. They are searching the ground for a parachute, an ejection seat or parts of a crashed airplane. As morning hours came around a report was received: an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft has crashed within Israeli territory. An aerial team member is injured while it seems that the other one died. The 669 Search & Rescue unit showed up at the approximated location along with an exploratory committee as the members of the First UAV Squadron hurried into trailers hoping that the bird’s eye view will shed some light on the current situation.

Racing Against Time

We are obviously facing a training exercise. The fragments don’t belong to an actual aircraft that crashed just like the dolls planted in the woods aren’t real people, although the Squadron has faced a reality similar to this one. In 2010, the squadron participated in the search of a manned F-16l and scanned the area of Golan Heights during the enormous fire. “We have the capability and human power that can solve these sorts of cases. At the end of the day, searching for a missing person out in the fields isn’t very different from locating a suicide boomer during an ambush”, says Captain Or, who is responsible for the training session in the squadron. “It started from a reserve military man who is a true professional and expert in the field of acquiring information from various fields. We have a few teams who were educated by him and today they are the leading and main men of the field”. Today’s trainees, Captain Idan and First Lieutenant E’, are, surprisingly, not a part of the assigned teams. It is their first time facing this sort of mission. “We can’t always bring the same people to complete the same exercise which is why it is important for other operators to be exposed to this kind of scenario”, explain Captain Or.

Following a briefing along with 669 Search & Rescue team, Captain Idan and First Lieutenant E’ arrive at the operating trailer while preparations for takeoff are underway. Today, the squadron holds a notebook containing its combat doctrine, and yet still hard work awaits the destined operators. “This sort of flight requires a lot of creativity and risk-taking”, emphasizes Captain Or. “Sometimes when a person doesn’t realize that he is within Israeli borders, he hides. That means we have to search for a flash of an arm or head body. If we are in enemy lines we are fighting against time, because we have to find the pilot before the enemy encounters him”.

“We need to find the person, Dead or Alive”

You could definitely feel the tension in the control car: the operators are scouting the fields nonstop, even receiving images from the UAV in order to determine whether they are dealing with a rock or aircraft fragments. Little by little, various parts of the picture become clearer, the ejection seat has been found, and it is easier to get an approximate location of the pretend pilot doll. Eventually, with the help of 669 Search & Rescue team, the doll is found in a cranny and is safe and sound. “It is not easy”, admits Captain Idan, “We have to accustom the human eye for extremely difficult scouting conditions in order to never miss a target. The final goal is to find a body, dead or alive”.

“These sessions can be excruciating but their meaning is very clear to everyone”, he states.” It’s very difficult to sit around for hours and do the same thing. When you can’t find what you are looking for it becomes very frustrating, but we have to go back and try again and again”, agrees First Lieutenant E’. “You become emotionally involved when you know there is someone out there waiting in the field to be rescued”.