He Refused to Abandon His Passengers: Michel Bacos

He put his own life at risk rather than abandon his Jewish passengers.
Captain Michel Bacos flew the Air France plane that was hijacked to Entebbe, but when the hijackers offered to free him, he insisted on staying with his Israeli and Jewish passengers to the end. “We heard commotion in the cockpit (coming) from the passengers’ cabin. I asked the flight technician, who was with me, to see what was its cause. We didn’t know what was happening. Wilfried Böse, the German terrorist, was waiting directly on the other side of the locked cockpit door. He tackled the technician to the floor and pointed his gun at my head. He also had a grenade. I immediately realized that a hijacking was taking place and that we had no ability to resist it. We were not armed; we had to listen to the hijackers’ directions.” Today, Michel Bacos, the captain of the Air France plane that was hijacked to Entebbe, is 92 years old, but the story of the hijacking is etched into his memory, and he can recount it as if it happened just a few months —and not 40 years—ago. When the plane landed in the Greek capital, four terrorists boarded the flight—two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two Germans—carrying weapons and explosives in their bags. “The hijacking was carried out four minutes after the plane took off from Athens towards Paris, ” Bacos remembers. “My co-pilot had his hands raised and we put the plane on autopilot. We told him (Böse) a few times: ‘Please, don’t shoot.’ Then he calmed down and ordered the technician to return to his place and my co-pilot to sit with the passengers. I asked him why, and he responded: ‘Because there are too many people here. I am alone and you are three, ‘ even though he was armed and we weren’t.

We mourn the loss of heroic Air France pilot Michel Bacos, who died on March 26, 2019. Michel was flying Flight 139 from Athens to Paris on June 27, 1976, when the airplane was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists. At gunpoint, Michel was forced to divert the plane, ultimately landing at Entebbe in Uganda with only 20 more minutes of fuel left.

The terrorists freed the 148 non-Jewish passengers, and also released the airline crew. However, Michel refused to leave the 94 Jewish passengers still kept captive, and the other crew members followed their pilot’s lead and stayed with the hostages. Michel said, “I was a captain of Air France and before that I was in the Free French Forces under Charles DeGaulle during the Second World War – it would be impossible for me to leave my passengers, unimaginable. I told my crew that we must stay until the end because that was our tradition, so we cannot accept being freed. All my crew agreed without exception.”

Several days later, most of the Jewish hostages were rescued during a bold raid by Israeli commandos. During the raid, known as Operation Entebbe, Michel suffered a concussion.

Michel was immediately hailed as a hero for staying with his Jewish passengers, even at severe risk to his own life. He was awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest decoration in France, by the French president. The Israeli government awarded Michel and his crew medals for heroism. He was honored with other awards and commendations by grateful Jewish groups.

Michel retired from Air France in 1982, and spent the remaining decades of his life in Nice, with his wife and many children and grandchildren. When he died, the mayor of Nice said, “Michel, bravely refusing to give in to anti-Semitism and barbarism, did honor to France. The love of France and the defense of liberties have marked his destiny.”

For choosing to risk his life rather than abandoning his Jewish passengers, we honor Michel Bacos as this week’s Thursday Hero.

Image: Michel Bacos and other hostages on their way out of Uganda

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