Thirty-six years after the world’s most famous rescue mission, an Operation Entebbe pilot reveals his plane was so heavily loaded, it barely got off the ground.
Reservist Brig. Gen. Joshua Shani, the lead pilot of the four-plane Operation Entebbe, flew his C-130 Hercules cargo plane with the entire rescue force on board.
In an interview with the IDF, he revealed that the transport plane was loaded with the famous Mercedes vehicle that was a mock-up of Idi Amin’s car and designed to fool Ugandan soldiers into thinking the dictator himself had arrived at the airport where more than 100 Jewish hostages were being held.
The aircraft was also loaded with the entire lead assault team, a paratrooper force and Land Rovers.
Shani took off from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, which at the time was under Israeli control, and he recalls the plane was so loaded that it “was one of the heaviest ever” in history.
At full throttle, the aircraft was barely moving at taxiing speed. “At the very end of the runway, I was probably two knots over the stall speed, and I had to lift off,” he revealed.
“I took off to the north, but had to turn south where our destination was. I couldn’t make the turn until I gained more speed. Just making that turn, I was struggling to keep control, but you know, airplanes have feelings, and all turned out well.”
The rest is history. Assault team commander Col. Yoni Netanyahu, brother of the Prime Minister, was killed, the only military casualty in the July 4, 1976 operation.
What is not known is that Shani’s parents immigrated to Israel after having escaped the Nazis and having lived as refugees in Siberia.
“My parents were lifelong Zionists and fluent in Hebrew, which they spoke to me as a baby,” he said. “They were thrilled to arrive in Israel and begin a new life, never again to be refugees.”
Ironically, Shani was not interested in becoming an air force pilot and almost refused to volunteer but reconsidered when his buddies also agreed to serve as pilots.
He learned how to fly the C-130 Hercules cargo plane in the United States, but when it came time to plan the Entebbe mission, he recalls that Air Force Major General Benny Peled asked him all kinds of questions abut the plane’s capabilities.
“Peled asked me if it was possible to fly to Entebbe, how long it would take and what it could carry. I left him with the impression that a rescue would be possible,” according to Shani.
He also revealed that the IDF prepared him for the rest – equipping him with a helmet, bullet-proof vest and “a large wad of cash” in case he needed it to escape Uganda.
After his safe return, he also returned the cash.