Michel Bacos, 94, the valiant French pilot who was forced by terrorists to fly his jetliner to Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, but refused to abandon Jewish passengers before an audacious rescue by Israeli commandos, died Tuesday in Nice, France.
His death was announced by Mayor Christian Estrosi of Nice, where Bacos lived. "Michel bravely refused to surrender to anti-Semitism and barbarism and brought honor to France," Estrosi said. "Michel was a hero."
Celebrated in films and books, the swashbuckling rescue by Israelis disguised as Ugandan soldiers culminated a harrowing week in which hijackers from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang seized control of Air France Flight 139 less than eight minutes after it lifted off from Athens on June 27, 1976. The plane had stopped there on its way from Tel Aviv to Paris.
The plane, carrying more than 240 passengers and a crew of 12, was diverted to Libya to refuel, then directed to fly more than 3,500 miles to Entebbe, where it landed with only 20 minutes of fuel remaining.
Three days later, the hijackers freed the 148 passengers who were neither Jewish nor Israeli. They threatened to kill the rest unless 53 prisoners being held in Israel and other countries on terrorism charges were released. The plane's crew was also permitted to depart.
"There was no way we were going to leave — we were staying with the passengers to the end," Bacos said in 2016. "This was a matter of conscience, professionalism and morality. As a former officer in the Free French Forces, I couldn't imagine leaving behind not even a single passenger."
As he recounted to the BBC that year, "I told my crew that we must stay until the end, because that was our tradition, so we cannot accept being freed. All my crew agreed without exception."
Three planeloads of troops from the Israel Defense Forces carried out the rescue operation on July 4. Three of the remaining 106 passengers and one Israeli commando, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, were killed. He was the elder brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu tweeted that Bacos had "stayed with the hostages through all their hardships, until IDF soldiers — led by my brother Yoni — freed him in a daring operation. I bow my head in his memory, and salute Michel's bravery."
Seven terrorists and 20 Ugandan soldiers were also killed in the raid when a convoy of Israeli commandos arrived in darkness disguised as a motorcade carrying Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who had welcomed the hijackers.
Michel Bacos was born on May 3, 1924, in Egypt, where his father worked at the Suez Canal. He joined the Free French Forces as a teenager during World War II and was stationed in Morocco as a naval aviation officer.
"I fought the Nazis," he said. "I knew precisely what fascism was all about. The genocide is a horror that none of us had forgotten."
In the 1960s, he ferried passengers and supplies between West Berlin and West Germany, where he met his wife, Rosemary, a flight attendant. He retired from Air France in 1982.
He was played by Eddie Constantine in the 1977 TV movie "Raid on Entebbe" and by Brontis Jodorowsky in the 2018 feature film "7 Days in Entebbe."
Agnès Varda, 90, a groundbreaking French filmmaker who was closely associated with the New Wave — although her re-imagining of filmmaking conventions actually predated the work of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and others identified with that movement — died Friday at her home in Paris of breast cancer.
In recent years, Varda had focused her directorial skills on nonfiction work that used her life and career as a foundation for philosophical ruminations and visual playfulness. "The Gleaners and I," a 2000 documentary in which she used the themes of collecting, harvesting and recycling to reflect on her own work, is considered by some to be her masterpiece.
But it was not her last film to receive widespread acclaim. In 2017, at 89, Varda partnered with the French photographer and muralist known as JR on "Faces Places," a road movie that featured the two of them roaming rural France, meeting the locals, celebrating them with enormous portraits and forming their own fast friendship. Among its many honors was an Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature.
It was her early dramatic films that helped establish Varda as both an emblematic feminist and a cinematic firebrand — among them "Cléo From 5 to 7" (1962), in which a pop singer spends a fretful two hours awaiting the result of a cancer examination, and "Le Bonheur" (1965), about a young husband's blithely choreographed extramarital affair.
Varda established herself as a maverick cinéaste well before such milestones of the New Wave as Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" (1959) and Godard's "Breathless" (1960). Her "La Pointe Courte" (1955), which juxtaposed the strife of an unhappy couple with the struggles of a French fishing village, anticipated by several years the narrative and visual rule-breaking of directors like Truffaut, Godard and Alain Resnais, who edited "La Pointe Courte" and would introduce Varda to a number of the New Wave principals in Paris.
Arlette Varda was born on May 30, 1928, in Ixelles, Belgium, the daughter of a Greek father and a French mother. At 18, she changed her name to Agnès.
New York Times