From Saigon to Cairo – Escapes on Helicopter skids

In history, it is sometimes necessary to pause, reflect, assess and draw conclusions (and lines) which may be passed to future generations just in case we mortals miss the link. It is with this in mind that we may recall and connect two iconic events, though spaced by thousands of miles and 36 eventful years, which bring to mind an incredible image.

The first event took place in April 1975 as America was desperately counting the days to its final evacuation of Saigon (South Vietnam’s capital city at the time) after its bloodiest war in SE Asia since WW2.

America was caught unaware by the speed with which the Viet Cong were advancing south towards Saigon. The ruling Vietnamese Junta, like all corrupt dictators, sped away to ‘exit’ in limousines and armoured personnel carriers leaving behind remnants of their corrupt regimes. In the desperate attempt to evacuate its military, secret service and CIA personnel from Saigon, the United State military had to send helicopters to lift its citizens out of buildings from the centre of Saigon because the city gates were jammed by massive queues of people running for the exit and the Viet Cong closing any major highway leading out of the city.

One iconic photo which, until today, captures the Fall of Saigon, showed American personnel being airlifted from the roof top of what was believed by many to be the American Embassy in Saigon, and which turned out to be the HQ building of the CIA in Saigon. This is confirmed by Hubert Van Es, the photographer who took that picture.

The headlines on the front pages of some US mainstream media outlets at the time was: “American escapes on helicopter skids”.

American escapes on helicopter skids
photo copyright: H Van Es

Thirty six years later, a similar event took place in Cairo last Friday when, Egyptians, still smarting from their success in Tahrir Square but now very angry at the killing of 6 Egyptian border guards last month in Sharm-El-Sheikh by the Israeli enemy, stormed the Israeli embassy compound in Cairo after Friday prayers, and penetrated its perimeter wall in an attempt to enter the embassy building itself. It was reported that the Israeli ambassador, his family and most of the staff were whisked away by Israeli military aircraft, leaving behind a number of their own quarantined in the basement area of the building.

Only a desperate telephone call placed in the middle of the night by Benyamin Netanyahu, PM of to Barack Obama, president of the United States, managed to save these guys as Israeli helicopters hovered above to pull them out and whisk them to safety. God knows if they were Mossad agents seconded to the embassy.

Unlike the Saigon event, no pictures of this particular escape are available (as this escape was typically planned at night). Only images of the Egyptian people storming the Israeli ‘wall’ of the compound were running on the front pages of Middle East news media.

Egyptian people storming the Israeli wall - Cairo
Egyptian people storming the Israeli wall - Cairo

From Saigon to Cairo, there exists a geographical line which, if drawn accurately, will pass through Sharm-El-Sheikh.