Final flight to freedom: Pilot's quest to fulfill husband's last wish

After her husband's tragic death in a plane crash, Vivi Davidoff embarked on a dual battle against the airline company and also against his family, who wanted to bury him despite his wish to be cremated; After winning both lawsuits, Davidoff returns to do what she loves most: flying the world's elite
Orit Merlin-Rosenzweig|
On August 28, 2020, Vivi Davidoff was in her kitchen at her home in Miami, holding a cup of coffee when her husband, Nisan Giat, a civilian pilot, said he needed to go to Miami's small airport for a ten-minute test flight.
<< Follow Ynetnews on Facebook and Twitter >>
Related stories:
Vivi, who is a pilot herself, joined him. "At the airport, the captain of the plane appeared, and I realized that I couldn't join the flight," she said. "I went back home and went out for a morning jog. Ten minutes later, a pilot friend called me and asked, 'Vivi, where is Nisan?' I said, 'He's on the flight.' He asked me, 'With the big plane?' I said, 'No, with the small one.' He hung up."
4 View gallery
ויוי דוידוף
ויוי דוידוף
Vivi Davidoff
(Photo: Gail Kolehma)
Did you freak out? "Yes, I was distressed. Then I received a group video call from a group of pilots. Someone who was at the scene filmed, and suddenly I saw my husband's body spread all over the ground. I couldn't breathe. That's how I found out that Nisan died."
Nisan Giat and the American captain were killed when the plane crashed due to an unclear cause. "Within a few hours of Nisan's death, I turned into a robot," Davidoff recounts. "When all the experts and pilots said, 'He died because he ran out of fuel,' I had to defend his name. They always say it's human error, but I knew it wasn't the case with my husband. He was a skilled pilot. I needed to understand what happened here."
How? "Despite all the pain and grief, I sent his students to photograph the computer and the fuel tank of the plane. It turned out that he had filled the tank completely. I had to battle to prove that it wasn't an accident, but rather a mistake made by someone else before Nisan took off, unintentionally."
Davidoff, 55, a mother of two from previous marriages, is a former Israeli model who became a civilian pilot specializing in luxury private flights to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and her glamorous client list includes big names such as Gisele Bündchen and David Beckham.
After Nisan's death, Davidoff won a lawsuit against the airline company, and that was not the only battle she fought in the past three years. When his family asked her to bring him for burial, she refused. Giat, who grew up in a religious family in Israel, was a secular individual who had been living in the United States since his release from the IDF.
4 View gallery
ויוי דוידוף על שער "לאשה" ב-1985
ויוי דוידוף על שער "לאשה" ב-1985
Vivi Davidoff in 1985
(Photo: Shlomo Avidan)
Davidoff claimed that there was an unwritten agreement between Giat and herself that if something were to happen to him, God forbid, she would not perform a Jewish burial.
"Nisan told me, if something happens to me, you should cremate me and put me in an urn. I am a Jewish woman who believes in burial, but I wanted to fulfill his wish," she says.
"Unfortunately, when I was already in the van on my way to the cremation, they stopped me with a lawsuit. They kept his body in a freezer for 120 days until a decision was made. My lawyers fought, and we won the lawsuit. I received Nisan as I wanted; he is with me at home," she smiles and shows me a large ceramic urn with his picture, birth date, and date of passing engraved on it. "Today I'm over it, but for 120 days, I suffered greatly."
She was born under the name Yochved Nechama and grew up in the Abu Kabir neighborhood of Tel Aviv-Jaffa to working-class parents who educated their children to work hard.
In high school, she first realized that there is a different life outside of Abu Kabir. She struggled to find her place there, played basketball with the boys, and then, at the age of 14, she was discovered by photographer Ran Sherid, who believed she had a future in modeling.
"My dad said, 'I trust you and give you my blessing,'" she recalls, "but remember, it's a world full of temptations and even more disappointments. I never forget that sentence."
At the age of 14, she was photographed for the cover of Ynet's youth magazine, and within a year, she started working as a model in fashion shows.
In 1985, when she entered a beauty pageant, she was forced to withdraw following an interview in the media where she spoke about her love for a Christian Marine soldier.
"Due to the publicity, I was removed from the competition, and he was transferred to serve in Jordan. Those were different days; we could no longer communicate. I lost my love. When he tried to find me after his release from the army, I was already in another relationship."
4 View gallery
וי וי דוידוף
וי וי דוידוף
Vivi Davidoff
(Photo: Gail Kolehma)
After her military service and winning the "Queen of the Sea" competition in 1986, she met her first husband, a diamond dealer, who lived in Miami, and she traveled with him while she was pregnant. It was there that their children were born.
Today, her daughter Shani, 32, is a doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and her son Ariel, 31, lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, working as a business manager for a computer and camera installations company. When her children left home for college, she divorced and decided to fulfill her dream of becoming a civilian pilot. At flight school, she met Nissim Giat, considered one of the best flight instructors there. The attraction was immediate.
"Nissan decided after the army that Israel was not the place for his dreams," she says. "He moved to New York, bought two planes, and flew people to the casino in New York. In September 2001, following the World Trade Center tragedy, his business in New York collapsed. He relocated the two planes to Miami and started anew as a pilot and flight instructor."
The two met two months after landing in Miami, and just as their relationship was taking off, they got married. Later on, they established a private aviation company.
It's not easy to establish an aviation company. "Businessman Dan Soffer, a dear friend of mine, who is now 90 years old, is one of the richest people in Florida, and he helped us. We purchased a twin-engine plane, and he brought all his friends: Johnny Depp (I flew his children to his island in the Bahamas), the Kardashian family, David Copperfield, Adnan Khashoggi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Greek Prince Pavlos."
"Through him, I got in contact with the British royal family and flew Prince Harry. Usually, I didn't know who was coming until I see their passports. Through such a person, you meet more people, and they bring more and more clients, wealthy individuals who own private islands."
Did you connect with the passengers you flew? "Most of the time, I don't know who I'm taking until I look at the list. Some passengers talk more, and some talk less. Others think that if they pay a lot of money, then anything goes, but it doesn't work that way. There have been occasions when I told a famous person, 'As long as you're flying in my plane, and I'm responsible for security, you have to follow the rules - no smoking and no getting up during the flight.' Sometimes I'm not nice because the profession demands it, and people don't like me, and I'm okay with that."
One passenger became a special friend. She is called Elle MacPherson (a model, actress, and businesswoman). When I was a teenager, she photographed in Israel, and as a starting model, I looked at her and wanted to be her.
At first, when I flew her, I was shy and introverted, and I didn't talk to her much. One day she asked me, 'Vivi, would you like to stay with us in the Bahamas?' I shared with her that I grew up in a small neighborhood in Tel Aviv and dreamed of stepping into her shoes. She replied, 'You know how to model, I don't know how to fly a plane.' We connected, she lives close to me, and we talk on the phone.
In 2013, they sold their company. "As entrepreneurs, we made a lot of money. I reached a point where I couldn't take it anymore because I had no life. In the middle of the night, I would fly someone's children to the Bahamas for the end of the civil year and watch the fireworks from above. I didn't want it anymore. When Nisan suggested that we get married and live a normal life without flying all the time and not seeing each other, we decided to sell the company." On Valentine's Day in 2014, we got married.
How did your life look after the sale? "Nissan flew large cargo planes, DC3, on behalf of the company that bought us. It's a giant plane, you can fit tanks inside it. I worked as a pilot for United Airlines, and after seven months, it no longer suited me. After flying people in private planes, I couldn't fly a 'regular' plane and be at the same destination over and over again. I had a pilot's license, a private license, an instrument rating, a commercial license, and a multi-engine license.
I had enough flight hours, I was a certified jet pilot, and everything I needed to advance further was to obtain a license to fly Gulfstream planes. There are no women in the world, as far as I know, who fly such planes except for me."
What's special about them? "These are private luxury planes operated by an airline company. There are ones owned by Maluma, Tom Cruise, and Julio Iglesias. When you hear about a celebrity in a private plane, it's not necessarily their own plane, but one they rent from others.
When you have a private plane, if it's sitting on the ground, you're losing a lot of money due to maintenance costs. Most owners of these planes allow their planes to be rented through the airline company. When Kylie Kardashian gets on a private plane that she's renting and uses it for any destination she wants in the world, she doesn't always know it's Tom Cruise's plane."
Her disease was kept a secret. Her passion for life did not diminish even six years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "I had chest pain. At first, I didn't want to address it until the condition worsened. When the biopsy results came, I didn't tell Nisan, the kids, or anyone. I had thoughts of traveling to Thailand to die there without telling anyone.
In the end, I told Nisan, went into the operating room, and they took everything out, including lymph nodes. I didn't tell the kids until they saw me at home and understood what was happening to me. It took me two years to get through it. My father didn't know; I didn't want to distress him. I said, if I don't get through this, why say anything? And if I do get through it, I'll tell him what I went through.
I went for chemotherapy and radiation at seven in the morning, with a hat or bandana. The chemotherapy did me harm. I lost my hair, teeth, and nails. I lost a lot of weight. I didn't have the strength to get out of bed. But I continued to fly with the chemotherapy."
Is that possible? "Yes. You don't feel good for a few days, but who said you can't fly? As long as you have the strength and medical clearance to fly and you're not under medication, you can. Nowadays, I'm undergoing medical treatment, and my daughter, who is married to an oncologist, helps me. I'm in good hands."
4 View gallery
ויוי דוידוף
ויוי דוידוף
Vivi Davidoff
(Photo: Gail Kolehma)
What lesson did you learn from the illness, if any? "Get up from the bed and hold yourself. Even with an illness, you can overcome everything if you put your mind to it. I didn't feel like a cancer patient, that's what the doctors said. I didn't want to feel sick. I kept going and defeated this terrible disease."
I understand that you returned to flying airplanes after Nisan's death. "Friends said, 'This time she received a blow she will never recover from.' My daughter said to me, 'You need a psychiatrist.' I said, 'No, I won't take pills, I'll stay at home and go crazy. Nissan didn't want that for me.' I need to invest in myself and take care of lifting myself up from the shattered pieces.
"A few months ago, they offered me to fly the plane of his (Iglesias), my legs were shaking, but I did it. They also offered me to fly the fastest plane in the world, the Citation. To the best of my knowledge, there are no women in the world who fly this plane.
I have the right, and maybe Nissan, who is not with me and didn't want me to continue flying after I got sick, wants me by his side now. Now there is truly no limit to what I can achieve. I could have fallen, stayed in bed, and mourned my bitter fate. But where would that take me? What example would I be setting for my children? What inspiration is that if I were broken? Nissan left behind a strong woman."
After what happened, are you really not afraid to fly a plane? "What's the sudden change? A plane is safer than cars because there's no traffic and crazy people cutting you off in the air. A plane is also almost indestructible, and in flight school, you learn how to handle challenging situations. There aren't many risks in flying. It depends on you and the person sitting next to you, both looking out for each other. Even when you lose an engine, you glide and continue flying until landing. So, no, I'm not afraid."
The commenter agrees to the privacy policy of Ynet News and agrees not to submit comments that violate the terms of use, including incitement, libel and expressions that exceed the accepted norms of freedom of speech.