The Helicopter Assault
When the torpedo boats finally left the scene, helicopters were observed overhead with Israeli commandos at the ready. Despite his impaired hearing, Phil Tourney could hear the unmistakable “whomp whomp” sound of troop-carrying helicopters approaching from the starboard side. When he saw them, he felt they were looming like birds of prey.
“As they approached, a call came over the intercom: ‘All ship’s personnel prepare to repel boarders.’ Aimetti and I went to the arms locker to prepare for a firefight with the few small arms we had on the ship. I couldn’t stop the jets or the torpedoes, but, by God, if it was going to be a man-to-man fight with whoever was aboard that helicopter, then I was going to try to make up for lost time. I was filled with such rage that I could envision nothing better than delivering a little payback,” says Tourney. Unfortunately, the locker was locked and, though “beaten to death, it would not give. We left the area, unarmed and just as defenseless as we had been earlier when the jets and torpedo boats attacked.”
The choppers hovered about 50 feet above the deck; close enough for Tourney to see a “hornet-swollen hive” filled with special forces commandos armed with sub-machine guns and ready for close-quarter combat. “They were not here to give us help. They were going to murder the entire crew and, once we were all dead, they could move about the ship as they pleased to place explosives and sink us all. The perfect crime, leaving no witnesses.
“They were only about 75 feet away and, like a dumbass, I stood in an open doorway, where they had a clear shot at me. I locked eyes with one of my would-be assassins who was sitting on the floor of the helicopter, with his legs hanging out and one foot on the skid as he waited for the order to rappel down to the ship’s deck.” Helpless and enraged, Tourney stepped out from the doorway and stood on the deck of his battered and bloody ship. “The only thing I could do to let my killers know what I thought about what they’d done to my ship, my friend and my country was to give them the finger. The Israeli with whom I’d locked eyes merely chuckled at the sight of something so impotent and harmless as my middle finger. In the midst of all his machine gun-toting buddies, he simply smiled and gave me the finger back.”
They left without apparent reason or warning, sending a wave of euphoria through the crew. A short while later, another helicopter approached the ship and, “like the one before, it hovered above us. A sack was dropped from the helicopter, which was taken to the bridge. Inside were some oranges, along with a card from Commander Cassel, the American attaché for the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Handwritten on the back of his card was a single line: ‘Have you casualties?’ Upon reading the card, Capt. McGonagle became furious. He limped out of the enclosed part of the bridge and yelled, ‘Get out of here! We don’t want any help from you!’ This helicopter was hovering above our once-pristine, beautiful ship, now riddled with holes. There’s blood all over the place, the deck is covered with body parts and this idiot asks something as inane as ‘Have you casualties?’ The helicopter left,” recalls Tourney. “We had defeated the beast without firing a shot, but by merely staying alive and remaining afloat.”