Unit 669 is the name of the Israeli Air Force heliborne medevac extraction unit (Sayeret). Unit 669 was founded in 1974, based on lessons learned from the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when an ad-hoc medevac unit made some 5000 extractions. Its initial mandate was to extract and provide initial medical treatment to downed (and possibly injured) pilots beyond enemy lines. However, in later years the unit also participated in extraction of soldiers of other arms of the Israeli Defense Forces, especially special forces (Sayeret) fighters in operations beyond enemy lines and seamen in distress.
The unit is composed of three flights: extraction, which has a company of fighters, evacuation, which has a company of doctors and paramedics, and a technical support group.
Training & Peacetime Operations
Due to the possibility of having to fight their way to casualties beyond enemy lines, unit fighters are highly trained in special forces tactics, and become highly efficient ground soldiers in addition to their high level of paramedic training. A unit fighter’s training lasts 18 months. Unit fighters are expected to sign on to an extra 16 months of service following their three-year mandatory service.
In peacetime, Unit 669 serves as civilian medevac for hikers who have gotten lost or stuck and need extraction from Israel’s deserts or canyons. These civilian operations, while expensive, help train the unit fighters for their battle-time roles. There is an ongoing debate for many years in Israel whether extracted hikers should be forced to pay at least a part of the extraction cost, especially in cases of hiker negligence or improper call for extraction. However, as of 2005 no such measures have been taken and the entire cost is still burdened by the public purse.
A famous extraction by the unit is that of Ron Arad’s pilot in October 16, 1986. In that case, a malfunction in a bomb carried by their F-4 Phantom aircraft forced both pilots to eject behind enemy lines in Lebanon. Unit 669 located the pilot being chased by enemy fighters, and rescued him by letting him grab onto the helicopter’s landing pod for several miles until they were out of gunfire range. Unluckily for copilot Ron Arad, his extraction helicopter arrived only after he was already captured.
One of the unit commanders (1978-1980), Dr. Efraim Sneh, later became a Brigadier General, a Knesset member and Minister (Health; Transportation; deputy Defense Minister).