'No survivors found on wreckage of IAF chopper in Romania'

Romanian mountain rescue official says chopper had burst into flames after hitting mountain; team of IAF pilots, servicemen secures crash site; 6 Israelis, 1 Romanian feared dead.

July 27, 2010 11:52
2 minute read.
A CH-53 YASOUR heavy helicopter like the one shown here crashed in Romania.

IAF helicopter 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

ROMANIA - The wreckage of an IAF helicopter that crashed into a mountain in central Romania has been found, and none of the seven soldiers aboard — one Romanian and six Israeli — appear to have survived the crash, Romanian officials said Tuesday.

Mircea Opris, Romania's chief mountain rescue official, said the remains of the helicopter, a Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion, were found after it crashed Monday. He said that the chopper had burst into flames after it hit a mountain wall in a remote area of central Romania.

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"It is totally dismembered," Opris said in an interview with Realitatea TV.

Ciprian Aldea, a spokesman for the local police force, said human remains and helicopter parts were scattered in the area.

"Corpses, as such, have not been found. It is a very difficult area, very rocky," he said. "You can't reach the area without the appropriate search equipment."

Romanian and Israeli government officials refused to confirm that the wreckage had been found or what had happened to the seven soldiers aboard.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, an Israeli team of pilots and IAF servicemen succeeded in reaching the crash site.

The IAF team descended from a helicopter near the remote crash site and then trekked the rest of the way on foot. They secured the area and were awaiting the arrival of the search-and-rescue team from Tel-Nof air force base, as well as officers from the IDF Rabbinate to assist in identifying the bodies. The reinforcements were set to reach Romania later on Tuesday.

Access to the crash site had been seriously limited by the rugged terrain, which had prevented vehicles from reaching the site and impeded Romanian and Israeli search efforts.

Romanian Defense Ministry spokesman Constantin Spanu said on Monday night that Romanian officials were scrambling to reach the accident site near the town of Zarnesti, some 120 kilometers northwest of Bucharest.

Spanu said the helicopter had been flying at low altitude when radio contact with it was lost mid-afternoon Monday.

Romanian Defense Minister Gabriel Oprea immediately established a committee to probe the cause of the accident.

IAF Brig.-Gen Nimrod Shefer, deputy commander of the air force, is heading the Israeli research team, the army said. Shefer said that all possibilities were being looked into, including a technical malfunction or a human error that may have caused the crash.

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