TEL AVIV (Nov. 9)
Two giant Israeli air force helicopters flew more than 600 miles this week to rescue 10 passengers from a luxury yacht which struck a reef in the Red Sea, off the coast of Sudan.
Eight Israeli crew members of the Fantasy 11 remained on board the listing vessel to protect it against piracy as they waited to be towed for repairs to Sharm el-Sheikh, at the southern tip of Egyptian-controlled Sinai, or to Eilat.
The vessel was taking on water but was not in immediate danger as Israeli, American and French passengers were lifted by winches Sunday and pulled into the helicopters.
The rescue was ordered at the topmost military level.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who also holds the defense portfolio, and the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, gave instructions for evacuation of passengers adrift 47 miles off a hostile Sudanese coast.
Sudanese authorities were undoubtedly aware of the rescue operation but did nothing either to help or to interfere with it.
Back safely in Eilat after evacuation with the passengers, the vessel’s Israeli cook said the yacht ran into high winds eight days out to sea on a leisurely cruise from Eilat to the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, north of Madagascar.
“Everything went flying. Mounds of spaghetti splattered the galley floor and crockery was smashed as the boat heeled over,” said Netta Daiches, 35.
The vessel at first did not take on too much water and the captain said it would not capsize.
“There was a lot of concern, but no panic,” she said. The eight-hour rescue operation was complicated by distance, the need to refuel en route and bad weather.
The round-trip mission involved a distance of over 1,200 miles and cost the air force an estimated $1 million.
The commander of the Israeli air force air rescue unit had high praise for the effectiveness of the helicopter crews in carrying out a complex operation.