Elite 669 Unit to lead recovery efforts Wednesday

Romanian security forces retrieve helicopter's black box, will assist IAF in uncovering causes of crash; Brig.-Gen Shefer: "Remains are spread over wide area in a steep ravine."

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July 27, 2010 22:28
3 minute read.
The 6 IAF crew members that were on the helicopter that crashed in Romania

helicopter crash 311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)

BOBOC, ROMANIA - IDF rescue and forensic teams, led by the elite 669 search and recovery unit, will head out to the Carpathian Mountains Wednesday morning to recover the remains of six Israeli Air Force servicemen who were pronounced dead after they Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion transport helicopter crashed there on Monday.

Romanian security forces Tuesday retrieved the black box of the helicopter that crashed and will assist the IAF in covering what caused the crash.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion, crashed Monday during a military exercise in which crews are trained to fly at low altitudes. The joint exercises, which were due to end Thursday, were suspended after the crash.

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On Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post accompanied the IDF military attaché to Romania Col. Shlomi Cohen as he climbed up the steep Carpathian mountain range in central Romania near the site of the helicopter crash. Due to the bad weather, poor visibility and tough terrain, it was impossible to get all the way to the wreckage.

On Wednesday morning, search-and-rescue teams from the IAF’s elite 669 Unit and forensic experts will head out to the scene of the crash to try and recover the remains of the six IAF servicemen and Romanian soldier killed in Monday’s air disaster.

The teams arrived in two Hercules C-130 transport aircraft on Tuesday and together with officers from the IDF Rabbinate Corps – responsible for identifying the bodies – as well as dogs from the IDF’s Oketz canine unit to locate the remains. IDF assessments are that the rescue work will take all day and possibly longer depending on the weather.

“The teams will try their best to get there first thing in the morning,” Deputy Commander of the IAF Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Shefer said Tuesday. “The remains of the helicopter are spread over a wide area, in a steep ravine, difficult to reach.”

Shefer explained the IAF’s decision to ground all of its aircraft on Tuesday. “It is important that we stop and think about the families and the missing servicemen,” he said.

In addition to the rescue teams, the IAF commission of inquiry into the crash will visit the scene and begin collecting evidence. “All of the possibilities are currently being investigated,” Shefer said.

The main directions are either a mechanical malfunction in the aircraft or human error, possibly caused by the thick fog that was in the area during the Monday flight that ended in disaster.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the helicopter disaster, speaking during a graduation ceremony at the National Security College on Tuesday.

"The disaster is large," he said. "This is a difficult day for all of Israel. We are choked up today hearing about how the heroes fell from on high, and how the vessels of war fell to the earth."

"The Jewish people tremble for the best of its sons that were on an important mission for IDF and the state," Netanyahu said.

Even though the IDF had yet to reach the crash site, Romanian authorities declared that the servicemen were killed in the crash and that their bodies had been located.

The dead were identified as Lt.-Col (Res.) Avner Goldman, 48, from Modi'in; Lt.-Col. Daniel Shipenbauer, 43, from Moshav Kidron; Maj. Yahel Keshet, 33, from Hatzerim; Maj. Lior Shai, 28, from Tel-Nof; Lt. Nir Lakrif, 25, from Tel- Nof; and Staff Sergeant Oren Cohen, 24, from Rehovot

Romanian Defense Minister Gabriel Oprea sent condolences to families of those that died and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressing his "deep regret," according to a ministry statement.

Shefer said that the IAF would continue training overseas despite the crash. He said that the advantage of flying in Romania was the ability to train pilots in unfamiliar terrain and territory. The IAF also looks for places like Romania where it can fly to train long-range flights. In recent years, the IAF has sent aircraft to exercises in Romania, Gibraltar, Greece, Italy and the United States.

Yaakov Katz is the Jerusalem Post Correspondent in Romania.


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