My assignment brought me to a military base in Israel, I’m not sure why, but two men were loading onto the small glider along with a woman and soon, also our pilot for this trip. Although there were no uniforms I guessed them all to be military… No introductions were made for plausible deniability should we not reach our goal safely, this destination being another base near the front lines. It was very uncomfortable, crammed in inside the cargo area like riding a Tokyo subway at rush hour.
The craft was flimsy, made of some sort of paper-like material aside from the seats ahead of me. Thin plastic windows stretched tight around the canopy of the fuselage like saran wrap over a bowl. No sooner than the pilot climbed aboard, a Jeep began towing us as the pilot finished fastening the canopy closed. As the glider gained altitude in tow, we approached an array of communication towers encircling the base. At the last moment the glider was released as we soared just above the top of them.
The woman was on my lap, I on a box,the other two men, one behind me kneeling, the other in front. We soared above the desert, sun blazing, a few thin clouds overhead. I was really pissed off that I couldn’t even move enough to pull a camera out of my bag, even less if I could have, to focus.
Sandstone cliffs in the distance framed the valley we soon entered. I don’t know which frightened me more, the pilot’s crazy maneuvering, or the fact that the floor of the glider felt so flimsy that my feet might rip through at any moment! As we came out of this valley we flew over an oasis of palm and a narrow ribbon of blue wandering toward a huge walled city.
It was fantastic! and off about a half mile to the side a magnificent palace, nearly as large, looming against a mountain, with golden domed spires surrounding it. Our flight split the two and as we rounded the far wall, cannon fire broke out! I remember this being the first time I spoke asking if we were out of range, the pilot just chuckled … I’m certain he was crazy. In fact, I believed I was the only one afraid judging from the glances I caught from both the men and from the lady sitting on my lap, although I noticed she was trembling.
For good reason as while we glided away from the city we were losing altitude and the nearer we came to ground, it was evident no matter how hard we tried to maneuver away from the fighting below, we were on the enemy side of the line.
My senses were filled as we descended. Our pilot would bank away from small arms fire and each time we’d be greeted by another line of small groups of soldiers. By now we were close enough I could even catch the eye of some. Unclear if we were a threat, they might shoot a round or two our way, but had more urgent things to handle fighting for their lives. Once, as we passed over, a horde was running to position a defense for an advancing brigade of Israeli soldiers beneath us. The smell of high explosive, the plumes of smoke drifting and horrifying sounds of battle echoing up, disturbing the otherwise bizarre quiet of our journey.
So now things are going from bad to worse….Why we did not land among the brigade then I cannot tell as we were descending rapidly by this time. We banked around a hillside and much to my horror, soldiers boiled out of a huge gate in the wall. We were on course for a direct hit to be splattered into a rampart of stone.
At what seemed to be the last possible moment, our pilot maneuvered incredibly right into the gate surrounding the small city, buzzing the startled soldiers and finally above a tall flight of stairs of the largest building. The craft pierced an open archway ripping the wings off with a surreal sound which reminded me of Velcro unfastening.
Bullets were zipping through the glider and the man behind me was struck in the shoulder. I even felt the heat and heard the scream of one going by near my left ear, that one knocking the sunglasses from the pilot just as we crash-landed into a great chamber.
As our pilot began to raise the canopy, I ripped it away, over my head. Adrenaline surging, bursting from the glider like a newborn chick through the egg! I remember pulling her along up a flight of stairs and through a series of corridors only to be met it seemed at each turn by startled young faces, until hopelessly cornered, we all entered a small room and did our best to barricade the door. Now, I noticed our group remained only of myself the pilot and the young lady none of us having weapons.
A small window in the only thing between us and other occupants of the building gave us the opportunity to see one by one the faces looking in on us, nearly all of them young, some grinning and some with menacing looks returned. After what seemed an eternity, a middle-aged gentleman in uniform tapped the window with the barrel of his pistol.
“Open the door” in a heavy accent was the first thing I understood from our new host.
I had been holding that knob with a death grip, preventing those outside from turning it. Reluctantly releasing I stepped back and the door swung inward.
“Come with me” he continued gesturing with the pistol toward the pilot. After they’d left the room we were instructed to stay there. I was doing my best to think of some other alternative.