The Israeli Pilot: June 30, 2021
The scene is Belem, Brazil at the mouth of the Amazon River, just 200 miles south of the equator. It is October 1st, 1990. The DeHavilland Beaver used in the movie production has crashed a week before. As the mechanic, it is my job to fix the plane, which I’ve been doing at the Belem Airport for the past week.
It’s Sunday morning (our only day off from filming, or repairing the plane in my case). It’s about noon and I am as usual on a Sunday sitting by the pool drinking some beer at the Tiki Hut Bar.
A man walks up to me at the bar and asks if I’m the mechanic. I answer “Yes.” He sits down next to me.
This man is about 5’8” high, wears an eye patch over his right eye. I was 38 at the time and this guy was at least 20 years older than me. He was white and not American. I could tell that right away.
“How do I get something to eat around here? And something to drink?” He asked me. “I spent last night with three women and they took all of my bodily fluids. I need food!”
In Belem this was a fairly common occurrence. The women outnumber the men 8-1, so the men have to do triple duty sometimes. I never did. I could barely handle the heat, humidity, and diseases. I learned early on to husband my strength to survive the Amazon.
But my recent acquaintance was just off the airplane and hadn’t figured this out yet.
“Really, I need something to eat!” He demanded.
I called over the waiter and in my pidgin Portuguese ordered him some fish, potatoes, salad, and beer.
I also told the eye-patched man that it would take awhile to get his order. This is the Belem on the equator. Everything takes time.
The man then told me his name was Moshe and he was working on the film. His job was to get the schematics of the DeHavilland Beaver from me to ship to LA where they were building a facsimile of the plane on a set for some closeups of Tom Waits and Tom Berenger flying in the plane.
This made no sense to me. You can get schematics of the Beaver anywhere. But he seemed an interesting character so I sat and listened.
Moshe: I am famished! These women here are insatiable.
Me: Well, they are passionate.
Moshe: I need food!
The beer had arrived so Moshe was drinking that. I decided I’d best distract him as I knew it would be a long wait for his lunch to arrive.
Me: Moshe, where ya’ from?
Moshe: I am from Israel. I was a pilot in the 6-Day War.
Me: What was that like?
Moshe: I got shot down three times! Three times! Fortunately I bailed out over Israeli territory. But I lost an eye and my left arm doesn’t work very good. Still they let me fly for another ten years in the IAF, but then they yanked my pilot license! After all I’d done for them!
Now I just travel doing these aviation jobs. But I can still fly. My depth perception is off a bit, but I’m a good pilot. Better than most of these clowns.
I went on to ask Moshe what it was like to be shot down..
Moshe: All hell breaks loose! I’m in this Mirage fighter and a missile blows the tail off! So I punch out and parachute. An IDF jeep picks me up. Takes me back to base. And I’m flying again in an hour.
Boom! Get shot down again! Missile hits the nose of the plane. Blows out the canopy. That’s how I lost my eye. I punch out again. Parachute down. Jeep picks me up.
This time I go to hospital.
Me: So how did you get shot down the third time? You only had one eye at this point.
Moshe: Where’s the damned food! I need sustenance! I have been sucked dry of fluids and energy!
Me: How long were you in the hospital?
Moshe: About a month or so. My left arm was also very damaged. But the doctors were very good and I was flying again in two months.
Me: Wasn’t the war over by then?
Moshe: Some think so. (He laughs.) That’s when I got shot down the third time. Again, I punched out and parachuted into Israeli territory. But I guess after that, they figured I’d wrecked enough airplanes. Maybe I attracted missiles. (He laughs again.)
Finally his food arrives and I watch Moshe eat it like a starving man.
I left him there. Never saw him again.