Unwavering Spirit and Pride: Injured IDF Fighter Pilot Survives Fatal Crash
By Laura Rolnick
Noam Gershony, 31, grew up in Tel Aviv in a strong Zionistic family, and dreamt of becoming a combat fighter, but “the army had other plans.” He was chosen for the Gibush program – a series of physical and mental tests that weed out the very few Israelis who will be determined eligible for flight school. A highly prestigious position, pilots are viewed as “sons of Gods” in Israel, as approximately 12,000 applications are received, 250 are accepted, and only 50 graduate.
Noam did graduate and was assigned to a helicopter squadron, for which he was responsible for flying Apache helicopters in various critical intelligence and combat missions. His primary duties included collecting intelligence aerially, conducting special missions outside of Israel, and, what he considers the most gratifying part of his service, “taking care of threats” to ground troops, which involved shooting at terrorist targets, located by GPS, from the air. The eight-year minimum commitment required by IDF pilots was easy to embrace once Noam’s passion for flying and helping other IDF soldiers became clear to him.
One cloudy night, however, that commitment was tested. A week after the start of the Second Lebanon War, Noam and his co-pilot collided with another IDF helicopter close to the Lebanese border. A missile exploded, Noam’s aircraft lost its tail, and his copter fell 6,000 feet to the ground. Noam’s co-pilot was killed instantly, and Noam suffered severe injures, including permanent spinal cord damage, and broken arms, legs, and pelvis. Within 20 minutes Noam was taken to a nearby hospital, where he underwent several surgeries, and where he remained for the next six months. For the next two years, he would receive many additional treatments and therapies, until, with great emotional and physical strength and determination, he learned to function with his disabilities and to walk short distances.
Noam noted the rarity of being severely injured as an IDF pilot since it is so unusual to survive a crash. “Pilots are either killed or uninjured,” he explained. Psychologically, “choices must be made.” Though it took him some time, “you must accept what is lost; dwelling on it will not help you focus on recovery.”
Accepting his new physical disadvantages, and learning to bear and adjust to physical pain—which remains as part of his daily life even today; “I wake up to pain; pain is always around . .”—Noam was inspired by his strong belief that his survival was a miracle. “I was not supposed to survive. I owed it to my friends and co-pilot who were killed, to go on,” Noam says, assuredly. He points out that he is not religious, and “does not know why it was me not them” who got to live, but he does feel the responsibility to appreciate the gift of life, and to make the most of what he does have.
He has succeeded beyond measure, as immediately evidenced by his contagious smile and quick wit, his warm and energetic demeanor, and his newfound passion for wheelchair tennis, for which he won an Olympic gold medal in the London Paralympics. Additionally, Noam now teaches mathematics to underprivileged, at-risk children, and gives motivational speeches throughout Israel. And poignantly, yet in fully keeping with the sentiments shared by other injured IDF soldiers, sentiments deeply woven into Israeli culture, Noam adds: “I am proud to be an Israeli and I am proud of my service; I do not regret anything, not even the outcome.”