An IAF helicopter in action. (Photo: IAF) (Photo: IAF)
IAF helicopter

Air Force captain meets senior paramedic who, during the Second Lebanon War, witnessed his crash and raced to the scene.

By United with Israel

An IDF pilot whose helicopter crashed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War met the Magen David Adom paramedic who raced to the scene 17 years ago, pulled him from the wreckage, and initiated medical treatment that contributed to him surviving the ordeal.

The pilot, Captain (ret.) Noam Gershony, never met his rescuer, as he was unconscious for several days following the crash. But on Sunday, following a motivational presentation Gershony gave before 850 visiting Americans on a Chabad Jewish Learning Institute mission, he was introduced to Senior Paramedic Shimon Eliyah Abitbul, who saved his life after seeing Gershony’s Apache helicopter go down.

The two embraced on what had been a reunion nearly two decades in the making.

“I met Noam [previously], in a way, but he never met me,” said Abitbul, now deputy director of MDA’s Yarden region, noting that when he visited Gershony in the hospital in 2006 and spoke with Gershony’s mother, the injured pilot had not yet regained consciousness.

“It was chaos in the Kiryat Shemona area during the war,” Abitbul added, “with constant rocket attacks from Hezbollah. All our ambulances were on calls at the time, but when I saw Noam’s helicopter collide with another helicopter and crash, I took off to the crash site [in my car] to see if there were survivors and initiate treatment.”

Gershony’s co-pilot, Major Ron Kochba, didn’t survive the crash. But Gershony was alive.

“As soon as we discovered there were signs of life — a pulse, breathing — we cut Noam’s seat belt, pulled him from the wreckage, and secured him to a stretcher,” Abitbul said. “Then we covered and treated his visible wounds and immediately took him down to the Mobile Intensive Care Unit team for further stabilization and immediate evacuation.”

The MDA Mobile Intensive Care Unit ambulance transported Gershony only a few hundred meters to a Medevac helicopter, which evacuated him to Rambam Hospital, where he underwent numerous surgeries for broken bones, including a spinal injury that left him partially paralyzed. After several weeks, he was transferred to Sheba Hospital for additional procedures and rehab, where he was cumulatively in treatment for 18 months.

After extensive rehabilitation, Gershony regained the ability to walk with assistance and resumed participating in sports, using specially designed skis and other apparatus to resume his prior active life. In 2012, he won the gold medal at the London Paralympics in wheelchair tennis, a moment watched by millions as the Israeli flag was raised to HaTikvah.

“Meeting Noam was a very emotional experience for me,” Abitbul said. “When I first treated him, he was near death. To see him all these years later — healthy, vibrant, and leading a happy and productive life — is so uplifting.”

The joy of meeting was shared by Gershony.

“It was amazing, exciting, and very special for me to meet Shimon,” Gershony said.  “He was there when I was minutes away from dying and thanks to his determination and passion for saving lives, I’m here today. I’m grateful to him for that.”

“In a profession in which we lose a certain percent of our patients, having a patient who fought back against all the odds to lead a full life is an inspiration to us and validates our whole reason for wanting to be paramedics,” said Aryeh Myers, a senior paramedic for MDA who presented Gershony with MDA’s Resilience Award at the dinner.

“Having Noam and Shimon finally meet properly closed the loop — I think for Shimon as much as for Noam,” he said.

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