Sattar Alvi: A Pakistani Pilot Who “Shot Down” An Israeli Fighter Jet

Certain stories stand out for taking unexpected turns in the annals of military history. One such instance happened on April 26, 1974, fifty years ago. Pakistani pilot Flight Lieutenant Sattar Alvi, operating a MiG-21 aircraft for the Syrian Air Force, pulled off an extremely uncommon feat: he shot down an Israeli fighter plane.

Sattar Alvi: A Pakistani Pilot Who “Shot Down” An Israeli Fighter Jet

The aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War serves as the backdrop for this unusual occurrence. The geopolitical dynamics of the area were altered by Israel’s quick and decisive victory in that battle, which left the neighboring Arab governments in a condition of humiliation and chaos.

But hostilities remained high, and six years later, during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the area was once more the scene of fighting. With Pakistan unpredictably entering the conflict, Israel found itself engaged in fierce fighting against an alliance of Arab governments headed by Egypt and Syria.

Even though Pakistan was not directly involved in the battle, a number of Pakistani Air Force pilots, notably Sattar Alvi, volunteered to join the fight when hostilities broke out.

Sattar Alvi: A Pakistani Pilot Who “Shot Down” An Israeli Fighter Jet

Then Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who wished to preserve good ties with Arab countries, supported the idea to send Pakistani pilots to the Middle East.

Alvi described in an interview how the Pakistani Air Chief’s meeting with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad cleared the path for their involvement in the war effort.

“I took one of my salwar kameez and flying gear, and we discovered that 14 other people had also volunteered,” he added. After a while, the Chief also arrived, and we were placed on his Fokker ship. We were clueless as to our destination.

On Behalf Of The Syrian Arab Air Force And On The Instructions Of The Syrian Government, Syria’s Ambassador Dr. Ramez Alraee Conferred The Medal Of Bravery On Alvi Along With A Certificate Of Commemoration
Syria’s Ambassador Dr. Ramez Alraee conferred the medal of bravery on PAF Veteran Air Commodore (R) Sattar Alvi along with a Certificate of Commemoration

The Pakistani pilots were requested to sign a paper agreeing that neither the Pakistani government nor the Pakistani Air Force would be held accountable for any unanticipated situations that occurred while they were away.

Sattar Alvi claims that the letter detailed their withdrawal from their leave abroad and released the government from any responsibility in the event of an unfortunate incident.

The pilots were then flown in a C-130 to Karachi and then on to Baghdad. Sattar Alvi and his traveling buddies left Baghdad and traveled by road to Jordan and finally Damascus.

The Flying Coverall Suit Of The Deceased Israeli Pilot Capt Lutz
The flying coverall suit of the deceased Israeli pilot Capt Lutz

Eight of the sixteen Pakistani pilots were sent to Egypt, while the other eight were told to remain in Syria. Sattar Alvi was one of the people told to stay in Syria.

Alvi and the other pilots were then moved to the Damir air base, which was about half an hour’s drive from Damascus. There, they were assigned to the 67A unit.

Sattar Alvi: A Pakistani Pilot Who “Shot Down” An Israeli Fighter Jet

Their assigned MiG-21s, which were built in Russia, had Russian lettering on them, and they spoke only Arabic while interacting with radars and air traffic control.

In order to overcome this challenge, the pilots came up with a workable plan. “We carried them on a piece of paper in our flying suits and wrote down the necessities to fly the plane,” Alvi said. This allowed us to learn the necessary Arabic language in less than a week.

The Pakistani pilots were assigned to the vital duty of air defense, and their mission was to intercept any Israeli aircraft that attempted to enter Syrian airspace. The Golan Heights region continued to see fighting despite Egypt and Israel’s ceasefire.

Alvi explained their strict schedule, which included getting ready for Sehri, the pre-dawn meal during Ramadan, every morning and waiting at the airport for possible assignments. This was the routine for a demanding seven months.

The Pakistani pilots saw Israeli jets on many missions throughout their deployment. Alvi pointed out that the two armies did not engage in direct combat even after these contacts.

The Pakistani pilots made the decision that protecting themselves from being caught by the Israelis would come first, regardless of whether they were able to shoot down one Israeli aircraft. Their air strategy was based on this choice.

Alvi flew a SAF MiG-21F-13 (Serial No. 1863) on April 26, 1974, while serving as a Flight Lieutenant and seconded to the No. 67A Squadron of the Syrian Air Force (SAF), based at Dumayr Air Base, Syria. in an eight-ship formation with a fellow PAF pilot and the Flight Leader, Squadron Leader Arif Manzoor.

while on an aerial patrol, the PAF fighter pilot team including, Flight Lieutenant Captain Sattar Alvi, Squadron Leader Major Saleem Metla, and the formation’s leader Squadron Leader Major Arif Manzoor had an encounter over the Golan Heights between a Mig-21 of the Syrian Air Force and two Israeli Mirages.

During a dangerous aerial engagement above Lebanon, eight Pakistani pilots, including Sattar Alvi, established the Shahbaz 8 formation. Alvi remembered how the formation commander had told them to turn in the direction of the Israeli aircraft that was said to have arrived just before they lost contact.

As events developed, Alvi saw a bright object moving toward Earth, which he recognized as an Israeli Mirage fighter. Alvi broke from his formation and turned to face the oncoming planes.

Alvi was engaged in a risky aerial dance called “squires,” and when the Israeli Mirage approached, he found himself in a dangerous situation. Alvi needed to go quickly since his fuel was running low and another Israeli jet was on his tail.

As the Israeli pilot tried to duck, Alvi launched his russian-made missile. There was a stressful moment when the rocket did not fire right away, leaving Alvi feeling uneasy.

The little conflict came to an end when the missile finally fired, hitting the Israeli Mirage. Alvi made his way back to base, almost escaping with his life as his fuel gauge dropped to zero.

Alvi then won the highest award from the Syrian government in recognition of his courageous deed. However, before Alvi could see him, the Israeli pilot, known as Captain Lutz, supposedly died from his wounds after being detained.

Alvi, however, said nothing about the incident for years and denied any knowledge of it when questioned. He was later granted the Star of Courage by the Pakistani government.

PAF Aerial victories over Israeli Fighter jets

During the  Six Day War (1967) the first time Pakistani pilot Saiful Azam joined the tiny Jordanian Air Force.

Saiful Azam, A Native Of East Pakistan Joined Bangladesh Air Force In 1971. Saiful Azam Has The Unique Honor Of Being The Only Pilot In The World Who Downed Four Israeli Jets And Served In Four Airforces; Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq, And Bangladesh. He Also Holds A World Record For Shooting Down Three Kinds Of Military Aircraft In Two Different Air Forces.

On June 5, Saiful Azam engaged four Israeli jets over the Jordanian Mafraq air base. He shot down a Mystre commanded by Israeli pilot H. Boleh and damaged another that crash-landed in Israeli territory.

Two days later, the Jordanian air force commander sent Saiful Azam to help the Iraqi air force. While piloting the Iraqi Hunter Azam shot down two of the Israeli attacking planes. Pakistani pilots shot down a total of ten Israeli jets during the 1967 war without losing a pilot or aircraft.

Saiful Azam, a native of East Pakistan joined Bangladesh Air Force in 1971. Saiful Azam has the unique honor of being the only pilot in the world who downed four Israeli jets and served in four airforces; Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq, and Bangladesh. He also holds a world record for shooting down three kinds of military aircraft in two different air forces.

During October 1973 Israel’s Yom Kippur war on its Arab neighboring countries A squadron of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) arrived in Syria to fight alongside the Syrian Air Force (SAF) and halt the Israeli advance over the Golan Heights.

Other Pakistani pilots who joined the Syrian force as volunteers included future Air Marshal Nur Khan, Salem Metla, Shahbaz Khan, Wisaam Faris, and Wisaam Shujaat. Late President of Syria Hafiz Assad awarded two of the pilots country’s highest decorations for gallantry.

Pakistani air force states that all its 12 volunteer pilots scored direct hits against Israeli aircraft and suffered no losses. During the 1973 war, Flt. Lt. A. Sattar Alvi became the first Pakistani pilot, flying a Syrian aircraft to shoot down an Israeli Mirage in air combat. Similarly on the Egyptian front, PAF pilot Flt. Lt. M. Hatif, flying an Egyptian MiG-21 shot down an Israeli F-4 phantom in air combat. Pakistani Air Force did not lose a single pilot or aircraft in any of the wars.

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