Forty years ago on July 4, 1976 the world was riveted by the Entebbe hostage rescue involving an Air France hijacked commercial airliner, terrorists, and Israeli commandos. The flight was hijacked while traveling from Tel Aviv, Israel to Paris, France. It was diverted by the terrorists to Entebbe, Uganda and held for a week at the Entebbe airport. One week later the hostages were rescued by Israeli commandos in a raid that convinced the militaries of other nations that a highly-trained counterterrorism force was needed by their countries. The U.S. was one of these countries and the successful Entebbe hostage rescue was a factor in the establishment of a counterterrorism unit called Blue Light.

Flight route Entebbe hostage rescue

The terrorists belonged to two groups. Two Germans were from the Revolutionary Cells and two Palestinians were from a faction of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). On the way to Uganda the aircraft landed at first in Athens, Greece and then in Benghazi, Libya where it refueled and picked up additional terrorists. Once reaching Uganda about 150 of the captive passengers were released and flown to Paris – the remaining captives were Israelis, Jews, or members of the 12-person flight crew. The terrorists wanted Palestinians and others imprisoned in Israel and four other countries released in exchange for the hostages.

The raid was difficult to conduct – approximately 200 commandos from Israel flew on four C-130 cargo aircraft over 2,000 miles to Uganda. The operation was planned and executed in a short-time frame. There were lots of things that could have gone wrong – an aircraft could be shot down, the element of surprise could be lost, or the hostages could be moved.

The rescue force landed at night on the airfield. The airport passenger terminal, where the hostages were kept, was attacked by the commandos. All the terrorists and some Ugandan soldiers were killed, the hostages rescued, and the commandos and hostages flew back to Israel.