Entebbe. The great airport rescue is over. The planes are lumbering back to Israel now, through the long, long morning of July 4, 1976.
Aboard the C-130 containing all the passengers who were whisked out of the airport lobby in that astonishing 53-minute surgical operation, it is quiet, subdued. No jubilation.
"Everyone was still stunned. It happened so fast. They were herded out of the airport and into the plane, and within seconds-seconds!-the hatch was closed and we were off."
Dr. Jossy Faktor was the chief medical officer for the airborne Entebbe force. A lieutenant colonel in the Israel Air Force, he was at the time the IAF's surgeon general.
"Once we got the wounded stabilized, we turned into air hostesses," said Dr. Faktor, who is visiting Washington for the international convention of the Aerospace Medical Association. "A lot of the people had come away in their underwear, including the whole crew of the Air France plane that had been hijacked. They'd been sleeping. So we were busy tearing up space blankets to make skirts. And handing out coffee and tea."
The amazing thing was that there were fewer than 10 wounded (three hostages and the operation's leader were killed). The medical force had brought 100 units of blood and 10 teams of doctors and paramedics.
"We didn't feel any elation ourselves until we were done working, maybe two hours in the air. And then when we were still flying over Africa we heard the story of the rescue being broadcast by BBC. We were a bit nervous."
Dr. Faktor, 39, is a South African who emigrated to Israel in 1963 after taking Air Force training in the United States. He is basically an obstetrician, but his required national service for Israel has given him considerable expertise in emergency treatment.
As surgeon general he was in on the exquisite planning for the rescue, though not to the extent of the commando team that actually rehearsed the raid on a mockup Entebbe airport built with frantic haste in the Israel desert, Israelis had helped erect the airport and knew every corner and corridor of it.
They also knew, from reports by the non-Jewish passengers released earlier, that several dozen hostages were vomiting because of contaminated food. So special equipment was taken along to handle this problem.
In fact the heads-up efficiency of the whole operation turns out to be another testimony for the American Red Magen David for Israel, Israel's Red Cross, or Red Star-of-David, which copes with virtually every medical emergency in the country, from a helicopter ambulance ride for a pregnant desert sheepherder to air transport for sick diplomats.
Entebbe, however, was something else. The 2,300-mile, eight-hour flight to Uganda was easily the biggest thing ARMDI ever attempted.
For Faktor, the hardest part was not the suspense of waiting for the "go" signal long after they had taken off from Tel Aviv, while the diplomatic options were allowed to run their course. The worse for him was sitting on the Entebbe runway with the bay of the huge transport yawning open to a night sky streaked with tracers and bomb flashes.
"We were sitting ducks," he said.
For 53 minutes they watched, readying the plane for use as a flying hospital, wondering if perhaps the whole group would be blown up, if they themselves would be gunned down.
And here is a curiosity: Entebbe was taken in stride by Israel. Faktor goes unrecognized on the streets of Jerusalem. He received no mdeals, nor did anybody else on the raid. He is not allowed to give interviews in Israel, and even here he cannot reveal certain details-How many planes were there in all? How did they land in silence and in darkness? How precisely was the risk calculated?
"We may have to use these techniques again some day," he explained in his South African British drawl.
"We try to think of it as a normal operation, except that all the people who planned it went along, the colonels and generals. It was something you couldn't delegate: The chiefs had to be the Indians.
"Basically what it called for was superb military intelligence surprise, and brains-and chutzpah." CAPTION: Picture, Dr. Jossy Faktor, by Ken Feil