Israeli Apache helicopter lands at Ramon air base.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
An Apache helicopter crash in early August that left one pilot dead and another severely injured was caused by technicians, the IDF announced on Monday.
“The crash occurred because the technicians who installed the steering mechanism on the Apache did not properly install it,” Col. Yoav, the head of the Israel Air Force Safety and Quality Assurance Department, said.
Over the six months the Apache flew with the improperly installed steering column, the mechanism slowly loosened and eventually dislodged fully, causing the helicopter to turn sharply to the left.
The crew then lost control of the tail-rotor steering and crashed.
The crash killed Maj. (res) David (Dudi) Zohar and left the second pilot, Lt. On, critically injured. Following a long recovery process, Lt. On was released from the hospital, but he has not yet been cleared to return to piloting.
“This type of incident has not occurred anywhere else in the world,” Yoav said. He added that the “rareness and uniqueness of the malfunction led to the crew’s difficulty in diagnosing the problem and operating it.”
Yoav said the investigation found that the technicians responsible for the installation of the joysticks – which are installed in Israel after the helicopters arrive from Boeing – did not have a sufficient understanding of English to fully understand the installation guidelines.
Following the final report, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin ordered that training be improved and qualifications raised for technicians who install steering mechanisms in all helicopters.
Norkin instructed that training be improved for handling emergency situations during flights throughout the helicopter array. In addition, he ordered a program be developed to deal with extreme situations during flight and that a range of technological developments be examined to improve flight safety.
The instructions for installing the steering rods and other components in the Apache helicopters have been updated according to the findings of the investigation and will be embedded in the IAF’s technical system. A series of other technological developments to improve flight safety will also be studied.
We “tried to turn over every stone in order to prevent other accidents like this,” Yoav said. An exhaustive investigation was carried out by the IDF alongside the United States Army and Apache’s American manufacturer Boeing, he said, with IAF officials flying to the US several times over the course of the past five months.
On August 7, an A-model Apache helicopter from the Magic Touch Squadron was returning from a training exercise in southern Israel when the pilots alerted the tower at Ramon Air Base that they were experiencing a technical malfunction.
The Apache, which had made it back to Ramon Air Base despite the crew’s difficulty controlling the aircraft, was on its final approach when the pilots lost control and crashed between the two runways in the base.
“There are times when it right to land right away, but in this case it was the right decision to return to base,” Yoav said. “The decision that was made to return to base was absolutely correct because you want to have emergency services there when you land.”
“The chances to land the helicopter safely with this type of failure is slim-to-none,” he said. Maj. Zohar’s ability to bring the helicopter to the base saved Lt. On’s life, without a doubt.”
Following the crash, former IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel grounded the entire fleet of Apache helicopters until the full investigation was completed. The fleet returned to operational service in October and has since carried out several strikes in Gaza.
Israel has two squadrons of Apaches that fly out of the Ramon Air Base in the Negev Desert and provide close air support for ground troops.