Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with pilot Mitchell Flint in 2008. Photo from Wikipedia

Mitchell Flint, American pilot who fought for Israel’s independence, dies at 94

Mitchell Flint, a fighter pilot who flew combat missions for the United States in World War II and for Israel in its War of Independence in 1948, died of natural causes Sept. 17 at his Los Angeles home. He was 94.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Flint enlisted in the U.S. Navy at 18, following in the footsteps of his father, who served as a combat pilot in World War I. The son trained as a fighter pilot and saw action in the Pacific in numerous dogfights and dive-bombing missions. He was awarded three Air Medals and eight Navy Unit Commendations.

Flint attended UC Berkeley, but with full-scale war between Israel and five Arab nations breaking out in 1948, he clandestinely became one of the first Americans to join Israel’s legendary 101 Squadron.

He explained his motivation in a 2012 Journal interview, saying, “I’m Jewish, Israel desperately needed trained fighter pilots, so I thought I could perhaps do something to sustain the state.”

After surviving 50 missions and two crashes, Flint flew above the 1949 Independence Day parade in one of 12 aircraft that made up Israel’s entire force of fighter planes. He was the last survivor among the dozen pilots.

Flint is believed to be the only wartime combat pilot to have flown the four greatest fighter planes of that era — Corsair, P-51 Mustang, Germanys ME 109 Messerschmitt and Britains Supermarine Spitfire. Israel used a version of the 109, bought from Czechoslovakia.

Back in the U.S., Flint earned his law degree at UCLA and established a family practice, from which he retired after 50 years.

A recent  book, “Angels in the Sky,” by Bob Gandt, details the exploits of Flint and his fellow foreign volunteers during Israel’s War of Independence.

Flint is survived by his wife of 59 years, Joyce, and sons Michael and Guy.

The family requests that any memorial donations be directed to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces at

A memorial service honoring Mitchell Flint’s life will be held at 12 noon Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood.

In first, haredi woman accepted to El Al’s pilot training program

Israel’s national airline, El Al, accepted a haredi Orthodox woman into its pilot training program.

Identified in Israeli media only by her first name, Nechama, the new recruit is a mother of three children in her early 30s from a town near Jerusalem, the news site reported on Wednesday.

Nechama, who will be El Al’s first female haredi candidate, went to flight school in the United States after attending the Beit Ya’akov seminary. She applied to El Al several years after receiving a pilot’s license and returned regularly to the United States to fly in order to make the flight hour threshold required of candidates for El Al’s training program.

She succeeded in the tryouts and tests for El Al’s upcoming class, and received notice of her acceptance in recent weeks, according to the report. She is scheduled to begin training in approximately three months. An El Al spokesperson described her as “an impressive woman with special abilities and a high level of personal qualities,” according to

She was quoted as saying: “Being a pilot has always been a dream of mine. My husband is very supportive, and he is helping realize this dream.”

Israeli crash victim’s family blames airline for letting allegedly suicidal co-pilot fly

The family of the Israeli feared killed in the crash of Germanwings flight 4U 9525 accused the airline of failing to monitor its staff.

French and German officials are investigating why co-pilot Andreas Lubitz on Tuesday flew the Airbus 320 into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

The family of Eyal Baum, who is believed to have died in the crash, leveled the accusation in interviews on Thursday to Israeli media, including the news site

“We want to know how come the airline failed to screen and check the co-pilot,” Ronny Baum, Eyal Baum’s brother, told Israeli media. The family’s attorney told the news site that the family “has enormous anger at the airline.”

Following the crash, some airlines are set to change their rules to ensure two crew members are in plane cockpits at all times, The Guardian reported Thursday.

Lubitz, 28, appears to have kept the senior pilot out of the cockpit after the first officer left the cabin mid-flight.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, who briefed the media on the cockpit black box recording’s contents, said he could hear the pilot pounding on the door as his junior colleague started the descent into the Alps. Lubitz can be heard breathing normally on the recording as the plane barrels towards the rocky mountainside, Robin said, adding it was clear Lubitz “wanted to destroy the plane” and had done so “intentionally.”

Prosecutors said they found no evidence linking Lubitz to terrorist groups or activities.

Jewish pilot goes down in California

A Facebook page in memory of a Jewish pilot who was killed when his plane crashed in California has amassed more than 100 messages, as well as photos and videos.

Ben Glattstein, 28, a graduate of Moriah College in Sydney, was flying from America to Australia to be a groomsman at his friend’s wedding at the Great Synagogue in Sydney when his single-engine plane crashed just outside Hollister Municipal Airport, about 100 miles south of San Francisco.

Glattstein was the only person aboard the Mooney 20R aircraft when it went down Nov. 25 at 6:35 a.m. He was dead among the plane’s wreckage when firefighters arrived at the scene.

The Federal Aviation Authority is investigating the incident.

Glattstein left Australia in 2003 for the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, where he became a pilot. He was flying to Australia via Hawaii. Arrangements are being made to return his body to Australia for burial.

His father, Nathan Glattstein, told the Sydney Morning Herald that his son “never said it but I think he loved the freedom, he loved the excitement, and everything that he did he showed that.”

Israeli pilot Assaf Ramon buried next to astronaut father

Israeli pilot Assaf Ramon was buried next to his father, astronaut Ilan Ramon, a day after he was killed in a training accident.

Ramon, 20, who was made an Air Force captain posthumously, died Sunday in a crash in the Hebron Hills while flying an F-16 aircraft as part of advanced training. He had completed the basic training course for pilots with honors in June, receiving his wings from President Shimon Peres. He had escaped death in a training flight in March.

His father, Israel’s first astronaut, was killed aboard the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in 2003 when it broke apart upon its return to earth.

The funeral at Kibbutz Nahalal was closed to the media at the request of Ramon’s mother, Rona.

“The State of Israel is lowering its flag, as a whole nation mourns the death of our fallen son,” Peres said in his eulogy. “All of our hearts are broken today because the personal child of the Ramon family was a child of all of us.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who postponed a meeting with U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell in order to attend the funeral, said earlier Monday that Ramon’s death was on the level of “a biblical tragedy.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak in an interview with Israel Radio said the news of Ramon’s death was “like a punch in the stomach.”

The Air Force continued to search for wreckage from the crash. Reports citing military sources said it is likely the investigation into the crash will take some time.

Though a mechanical failure is one possibility, reports say the Air Force is looking into loss of consciousness or human error as likely causes.

Assaf Ramon, the oldest of four children, was 15 when his father died. He had said he would like to become a pilot like his father and perhaps even an astronaut.

Ilan Ramon was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and participated in the 1981 strike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor.

Shul playground pays tribute to young pilot

In mid-April about 300 people gathered at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) for the dedication of Mark Air, a large, eye-catching structure in the nursery school play area. With its colorfully painted slides, tunnels and swings, its portholes and decorative elements, Mark Air is a multipurpose play apparatus that resembles an airplane.

The structure honors Mark Gabriel, a 23-year-old aviator who perished in an airplane accident four and a half years ago. Among those in attendance were Mark’s parents, Mary and Moneer Gabriel, their relatives and co-workers, as well as VBS nursery-school families, including toddlers who couldn’t wait to play in the brand-new structure.

At the dedication there were also many who know the Gabriels from having met them at their place of worship in Pico-Robertson: St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church.

Mary and Moneer Gabriel are not Jewish. They’re Christian, born in Egypt. In an interview, they talked about Mark, their middle child.

“With Mark, everything was so fast,” Mary Gabriel said, recalling the day of his birth: April 13, 1980. “Even his delivery was fast…. As he was growing up, he kept me on my toes all the time. Never a dull moment. He was very energetic.

“Mark was a free spirit. He wanted to do everything. The first time he drove a car he was 8 years old. At that age he got into Moneer’s Volkswagen and tried to drive it. With Mark everything was so quick, quick, quick … as if he knew….” Her eyes welled up. “He’d get bored with things: with school, with classes. He was smart, but he couldn’t sit still.”

In the 1990s, Mark Gabriel attended Alemany, a Catholic high school in Mission Hills, then went to CSUN, where he studied accounting and finance. After that, he worked in the insurance business. According to his parents, Mark was too adventurous and restless for a desk job, so one day he announced that he wanted to be an airplane pilot.

At pilot school in Florida, Mark Gabriel found something that he loved and had the craving to learn. After two years of study and training, he returned to Southern California, where he worked as a co-pilot for a charter jet company.

On Dec. 23, 2003, Mark Gabriel was co-pilot on a small business jet that took off from Chino Airport. Eleven minutes after take-off, the plane plummeted 20,000 feet into the Mojave Desert.

In the wake of this tragedy, Ron Braverman, Mary Gabriel’s work supervisor, helped the Gabriels start a foundation in Mark’s name.

“We started the Mark Moneer Gabriel Foundation,” Braverman said, “and we collected a nice sum of money. We went to Alemany, where Mark had gone to high school, and we met with their scholarship program. But somehow, it never fell into place.

“We wanted to use the money to keep Mark’s name and memory alive, and we wanted to do something that benefited other people, because Mark was very big on taking care of others. If he had a dollar in his pocket and you needed it, he’d give it to you.”

Another work colleague of Mary Gabriel’s, Shirley Lowy, also reached out to the Gabriels in their time of grief.

“Shirley is the connection to VBS,” Braverman said. “Along the way she brought Moneer into VBS, and he started attending lectures and classes about four years ago.”

“Shirley tried to bring me here so many times,” Mary Gabriel said, “but I wasn’t ready.”

In time, Mary also started coming to VBS, where she felt “comfortable.”

“I wanted to do something [to honor Mark],” Mary said, “and here at VBS they’re very warm.”

“We were open to everything,” Braverman said, “but because Mary and Moneer are not Jewish, I wanted to make sure. Did they want something here at VBS? Did they want to do something that was compatible with their church at the same time?”

Little by little, after talking with those at VBS who work in the playground, the idea for Mark Air took shape.

“We wanted it to have something to do with Mark,” Braverman said, “and the playground people came up with the concept. They told us their needs and came up with a design. Sometimes things just happen at the right time, and it all falls into place…. Long after we’re forgotten, Mark Air will be there for children to enjoy.”

On April 13, the day Mark Air was dedicated — the day that would have been Mark Gabriel’s 28th birthday — Moneer Gabriel cut the ribbon, and the children swarmed all over the structure, playing and jumping and having fun. It was a day of tears and joy.

“It couldn’t be more special,” Mary Gabriel said, her eyes welling up again. “The pain will never go away, of course. But seeing the children play, knowing that Mark’s name will live on this way, helps ease the feeling of loss.”