The paramedic from Magen David Adom, who saved his life by pulling him from the rubble after his helicopter crashed during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 against Hezbollah, met the former Israeli Air Force pilot on Sunday.
Because he was comatose for several days after the disaster, the pilot, Capt. (ret.) Noam Gershony, had never met his rescuer. But on Sunday, Shimon Eliyah Abitbul, a paramedic, was introduced to Gershony after he delivered a speech of inspiration to 850 Americans in Israel as part of a Chabad Jewish Learning Institute mission.
The two men hugged in a reunion that had been in the works for nearly two decades.
Abitbul, currently the deputy director of MDA’s Yarden district, remarked, “I kind of met Noam [before], but he never met me.
He mentioned that he had spoken to Gershony’s mother and visited him in the hospital in 2006, but the injured pilot hadn’t yet regained consciousness.
The Kiryat Shemona region experienced confusion during the conflict, according to Abitbul, who also noted that Hezbollah’s rocket assaults were ongoing. When I witnessed Noam’s helicopter collide with another chopper and crash, all of our ambulances were on call then, but I immediately drove to the scene to check for survivors and provide aid.
Maj. Ron Kochba, Gershony’s co-pilot, did not survive the crash, but Gershony did.
“We cut Noam’s seat belt, took him from the wreckage, and attached him to a stretcher as soon as we determined there were signs of life—a pulse, breathing,” Abitbul recalled. He was then taken down to the Mobile Intensive Care Unit team for further stabilization and prompt evacuation after we had covered and treated his apparent wounds.
Gershony was carried by the MDA Mobile Critical Care Unit ambulance a short distance to a Medevac helicopter. He then flew to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, where he underwent many operations to treat fractured bones, including a spine injury that left him largely paralyzed. After many weeks, he was transported to Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan for more surgeries and rehabilitation.
After undergoing rigorous rehabilitation, Gershony was able to walk again with the aid of a cane and resume his athletic activities with the assistance of specially-made skis and other equipment.
At the London Paralympic Games in 2012, he won the gold medal in wheelchair tennis, and millions of people watched as the Israeli flag was raised to “Hatikvah.”
Meeting Shimon was “wonderful, exhilarating, and special for me,” Gershony remarked. “He was there when I was just moments away from passing away, and I’m still alive today because of his tenacity and dedication to saving lives. He has my appreciation for it.