Benny Ben-Dror parachuted from an exploding helicopter in the Yom Kippur War and miraculously survived. His son Arnon related to the IDF website how his father escaped with his life even though it has never been a practice to get into a helicopter with a parachute. Ben-Dror had kept his survival story secret from the public until now.
“I was discharged from the IDF in August '73,” explains Ben-Dror, who is now 58, “and one Saturday morning in October I got a call: ‘There’s going to be a war. Come.’”
There’s going to be a war. Come.
He was flown to the northern Israeli border on a helicopter for five days on a mission to disrupt the enemies from launching missiles against the Israeli fighter aircrafts. That same Thursday night the crew flew to the Sinai in a Yasur helicopter.
'The helicopter exploded into pieces'
“There was a feeling of routine,” he relates. “Suddenly I heard a big boom sound. I was thrown towards the dashboard, and I felt I was rolling outside, and then the helicopter exploded into pieces.”
Benny found himself, in an instant, in the air. “I had a parachute on my chest which we never really paid serious attention to, and we always laughed about how we probably wouldn’t even be able to parachute with it,” he recalls.
Photo: Benny Ben-Dror He had never participated in a parachuting course, but he remembered being told that the chute has to be opened in an emergency. “My eyes were closed, but I was fully conscious,” he recalls. “I pulled the handle, and the parachute immediately opened.”
Fortunately, the helicopter exploded at a high altitude of 7,000-8,000 feet, giving him sufficient time to open the parachute and land. But Benny felt that he was soaring higher, not landing. "I saw the helicopter debris flying and descending faster than I was, and I thought I was ascending.”
He and his friend Yaakov Limor survived, but seven others were killed.
The investigators who checked into the circumstances of the helicopter crash were unable to come to any clear conclusion, and until this day the Israeli Air Force is still not sure what caused the unfortunate tragedy. The assumption is that the helicopter was hit by an air to air missile or perhaps a shoulder missile, but the question of why the equipment did not detect the launching remains unanswered.
“Parachuting from a helicopter is so rare, that you can count such documented cases in the world on one hand, and in Israel there was only a single recorded case,” explains Jacob Cooper, one of the founders of the Shaldag Unit and the unit which deploys electronic warfare in the Israel Air Force.
He said that using a parachute on a helicopter is usually ineffective because there is little room in a crowded chopper for the chute and because the low-flying altitude of helicopters fly does not give enough time to open a parachute properly.”
Ben-Dror's experience in parachuting almost cost him his life when he reached for a chute in another flight involving a malfunction while on reserve duty.
"Suddenly the helicopter lost its balance and it became clear that the back rotor had fallen off," he remembers. "I felt what happened, and tried to jump and use my parachute, and at the last minute the officer caught me and yelled at me 'Come on! Go inside!'" The spinning rotor could have torn him into pieces had he tried to parachute.
The pilot succeeded in landing the helicopter safely in a forced landing, but Benny decided never to go in a helicopter again.
His son Arnon adds: "I had never heard him tell this story. It was only in a recent interview organized by the Air Force Museum to commemorate his story as a part of an internal project, that the full story of that old wound was finally revealed to me."