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|Branch||Israeli Air Force|
|Type||Airborne Search and Rescue|
|Role||Combat search and rescue, MEDEVAC|
669 (Hebrew: יחידת החילוץ והפינוי בהיטס 669,Yechidat Hilu'z Vehapinu'i Behethes 669; English: Airborne Rescue And Evacuation Unit 669) is the Israel Defense Forces heliborne medevac extraction unit, subordinate to the Special Air Forces Command of the Israeli Air Force. It is considered one of the IDF's premier elite units, and is coed and multi-ethnic.
Unit 669 was founded in 1974, in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when an ad hoc medevac unit made some 5000 extractions. Its initial mandate was to extract and provide initial medical treatment to downed (and possibly injured) pilots beyond enemy lines. However, in later years the unit also participated in extraction of soldiers of other arms of the Israeli Defense Forces, especially Sayeret (Special Forces) fighters in operations beyond enemy lines and seamen in distress.
Due to the possibility of having to fight their way to casualties beyond enemy lines, unit soldiers are highly trained in special forces tactics and become highly efficient ground soldiers in addition to their high level of paramedic training. Typically, their training and selection lasts 18 months. Courses that candidates must pass include:
- Combat medics' course
- Parachuting course in the IDF Parachuting School
- Scuba Diving course
- Counter-terrorism course in the IDF Counter-Terror Warfare School
- Rappelling course
- Rescue under harsh conditions
- Commanders' course
Upon completion of their training, unit soldiers are expected to sign on for an extra 16 months of service following their three-year mandatory service.
The unit is composed of three flights:
- Extraction, which has a company of infantrymen.
- Evacuation, which has a company of airborne doctors, paramedics and nurses.
- Technical support group.
The Unit's logo is a winged, slinking, green-eyed, black cat. The Unit's warriors are subsequently sometimes referred to as "Cats" or "Flying Cats".
During peacetime, the unit often helps rescue civilians injured during various catastrophic incidents. The unit has also served as a civilian medevac for hikers who have gotten lost or stuck and need extraction from Israel's deserts or canyons. These civilian operations, while expensive, help train the unit fighters for their wartime roles. There is an ongoing debate whether extracted hikers should be forced to pay at least part of the extraction cost, especially in cases of hiker negligence or improper call for extraction. However, as of 2009 no such measures have been taken. The unit's recruits also patrol agricultural areas for illegal animal traps.
Unit 669 soldiers, including reservists, were among the IDF personnel sent to Nepal in late April 2015 to take part in search and rescue efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake and subsequent avalanches.
- Former unit commander (1978-1980) Dr. Efraim Sneh, rose to become a Brigadier General, a Knesset member and government minister (Health; Transportation; deputy Defense Minister).
- IDF Home Front Search & Rescue Unit
- Combat rescue officer
- United States Air Force Pararescue
- "Israeli Air Force Special Units" (Press release). Asia Times. 2004-12-10.[dead link]
- "First female Arab soldier joins elite unit" (Press release). Yediot Aharonot. 2008-04-04.
- "Woman & Special Forces" (Press release). Jewish Virtual Library. 2008-05-26.
- Sarusi, Neta; Vinter, Yarden (July 24, 2009). "The Cat goes for a Hunt". Bamahane (in Hebrew) (2998).
- "200 Israeli soldiers dispatched to Nepal". The Matzav Network (matzav.com). 26 April 2015. Retrieved 27 April 2015.