Saving Paratrooper Perlos — Part 2

I immediately felt that there was something wrong, as if a lot of drag was added to our airplane and steering it became sort of “heavier”. At the same moment Dispatcher Number Two entered the cockpit and shouted excitedly that a paratrooper got caught at the tail of the airplane. I started immediately a turn to the west while climbing to an altitude of 3000 feet. Wireless-Operator Simon Pozniakov who kept contact by means of a “walkie-talkie” instrument with the Commanding Officer of the Paratroopers Regiment, Major Yehuda Harari advised me that Harari commands me to fly out to sea and release the paratrooper there. The tragedy of Itamar Golani was well known to me. This command disgusted me. In principle I was not accepting any commands or instructions from anybody, certainly not from somebody who was on the ground. The pilot-in-command of an airplane is next to God and does not get orders and advice concerning the operation of his airplane and the well-being of his crew and passengers. Anything and everything which happens to the airplane or within it is the responsibility of the Captain and he has to decide and carry out his decisions and if he so desires he may consult anybody he likes. I understood immediately that this dilemma is mine and mine alone and that I must find the best possible solution to it without listening to stupid orders from people who are not responsible for this airplane and to anything which happens in it or around it.

Dispatcher Number One had already cast the anchor and directed it by means of the nylon cord and aided by the slipstream towards the stretched lines of the stranded parachute canopy. There was a certain amount of danger in this action for had the anchor reached the elevator or the rudder it would have hindered the free action of these controls and this would have prevented me from controlling the airplane fully and freely. But it was a calculated and worthy risk. It was possible to “play” and direct the nylon cord in the strong slipstream outside of the airplane and have full control of it. The anchor did indeed get to the parachute lines and got hold of them while 16 strong men who remained in the airplane started pulling the cord back. The anchor with the caught lines started getting closer to the airplane door but as they did they also started to tear one by one due to the metal anchor. The nylon cord which was stretched strongly against the open frame of the door which was of aluminum material started chafing and tearing. Pozniakov, whom I sent back to see what was going on and report to me got back and told me that it did not look good. I was already at 3000 feet altitude. At this altitude on this cold day and in this strong wind which was blowing on him George Perlos would soon freeze to death. I thought that if I would feather the left propeller and shut the left engine I shall lessen the slipstream on the left side on which the open door was agape and since at the same time I would have to increase the power of the right engine to the maximum power required for flying single-engine I would thus create a stronger slipstream on the right side of the airplane which would deflect the paratrooper a few degrees left thus easing the pulling of the nylon cord into the airplane. I decided to do it. I feathered the left propeller and shut the left engine. Portugali was surprised and wanted to say something but I stopped him and sent him back to help the others pull the nylon-cord and examine what was going on there. I kept Pozniakov close to his radio instruments in order to be able to contact whoever need be.

Meantime George went on with his part of the story: “When I saw how my parachute lines were getting torn without my moving one inch towards the door I sort of rolled round and brought all the remaining lines together so that they looked like one bulky cord. The anchor caught this cord again, and at the same time I felt that the slipstream on my left, on the side of the open door, was getting weaker and the slipstream on my right side became stronger and shifted me somewhat left of the airplane. I was finally being dragged towards the door but my parachute lines continued tearing-off. When I was finally only one meter from the door only 4 of the 28 lines of the chute remained whole. I became desperate. I was convinced that I would die just as I would get a few centimeters from the door due to these miserable parachute lines. I closed my eyes and said to myself: That’s it, my end is here and now. And as this thought raced through my head I felt two pairs of hands grabbing my arms and pulling me into the airplane while the nylon cord continues pulling as well.”

After I sent Portugali back I remained alone by the flight-controls with Pozniakov standing behind me. As soon as I shut the left engine I started flying at the minimum single-engine flying speed plus 20 mph (to compensate for the added drag). Without this added drag which was caused by the paratrooper and his open parachute which were being dragged behind the airplane, and at the weight of a “clean” airplane carrying a crew of 3 men plus 16 remaining paratroopers and with fuel tanks which were almost full (this was the policy of this Squadron at the time: To depart on all flights with full fuel tanks) this airplane would have kept an altitude of 3000 feet above sea level even with one operating engine but not in the circumstances in which we found ourselves. It was therefore losing 100 feet per minute. Therefore 20 minutes later I was flying at an altitude of 1000 feet above sea-level opposite Palmahim. I told Pozniakov to call Portugali back immediately to his co-pilot seat. Portugali came back in a flash and I told him that when we shall get down to 500 feet I will restart the left engine and unfeather the left propeller regardless of the paratrooper’s position, and since I have to continue operating the flight-controls in order to control the airplane while we return from a-symmetrical flying on a single-engine to symmetrical flying on two therefore I want him to operate the necessary buttons and switches which will restart the engine and unfeather the left propeller, and that he should do it only according to my call-outs and instructions (I could not allow any mistake now that we were at this altitude and had only 5 minutes before we hit the sea. The twice-heavy responsibility lay on my shoulders and mine only. Portugaly tried to convince me to wait one more minute and said that the paratrooper was very close to the door but I could not wait anymore as we got to 500 feet and as I gave Portugaly my first order for restarting the left engine I heard Pozniakov say in English (he could not yet speak Hebrew at that time): “I can see his head and shoulders in the door!” I went on restarting the engine and unfeathering the left prop. and Portugali acted with agility and punctuality. At an altitude of 300 feet above sea-level the airplane stopped losing height and I went on pushing the left throttle slowly forward while retrimming the airplanes’ main flying-controls and climbing back to 1500 feet and turning East towards Ekron. As soon as we started climbing George Perlos entered the cockpit, his hair disheveled by the wind and his face red by the cold, and started thanking me. But I was too busy getting this airplane to fly again in perfect symmetry so I shouted angrily at Perlos to get the hell out of the cockpit and he happily disappeared into the cabin.

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