Read part I here

The Rescue Operation Begins

Just before the C-130s took off from Lod airport, Shimon Peres came to the airfield. He shook a few hands and answered the concerns of the individual commanders regarding the Cabinet’s approval of the mission. Yoni came up to him, shook his hand, and reiterated that their plan was “tip-top.” 

The C-130s left Lod in five-minute intervals, flying in different directions and then shortly after turning south to the Sinai. An extra Hercules accompanied them to Sharm al-Sheikh in the event that one of the planes developed mechanical issues.    

The four C-130s had to fly low to avoid radar detection. There were no seats and the commandos had to sit on the vehicles. The lurching of the planes in the heat made almost every commando sick. The floors were slick with vomit.

At Sharm al-Sheikh, the commandos recovered from the turbulent flight and got ready for the final flight to Entebbe. One soldier remembered that a change came over Yoni. “He was more relaxed now… he was in his element.”

The planes were loaded much more than they had ever been during any training exercise. Shani’s Hercules One carried 33 men of the Unit’s assault force, their three vehicles, 52 paratroopers, and part of the command team. Hercules Two was even heavier. It carried two of the Unit’s APCs, 16 Unit troops, a jeep, and 17 more paratroops. Hercules Three carried two more of the Unit’s APCs, 16 Unit troops, 30 Golani fighters, and their jeep. Hercules Four carried two Peugeot pickups — one for the Golani troops and one for the fuel pump — the 10-man-refueling team, the 10-man medical team, and 20 more Golani troops. 

Operation Thunderbolt: Israeli Commandos Strike at Entebbe
Part of Entebbe’s international airport, where Operation Thunderbolt took place. (

As they were flying along, the men were all lost in their own thoughts. Some tried to sleep but the cramped quarters of the C-130s made it difficult. Many of the troops were amazed to see Yoni climb in the Mercedes and calmly begin reading a book to pass the time. His calmness had a positive effect on the men. 

The Israelis flew across the length of the Red Sea — to avoid Saudi radar — then over Sudan, South Sudan, and into Ugandan airspace. As they were flying above Lake Victoria, they started descending. Not too long before touchdown, Yoni moved through the cabin and spoke with each soldier. A little encouragement, a smile, a touch on the shoulder,  almost as a premonition that these were their last moments together.