Israeli Apache helicopter lands at Ramon air base.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
A poorly installed steering mechanism has been identified as the cause of a deadly Apache crash in early August that left one pilot dead and another severely injured, the army said Monday.
The announcement was made based on a new interim report on the cause of the August 7 crash that killed Maj.(res.) David Zohar and seriously injured another officer.
Around 9 p.m. 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 Airbase that they were experiencing a technical malfunction 45 minutes into the flight.
According to the investigation, one of the joysticks leading to the tail rotor disconnected as a result of a malfunction caused by the poor installation of the steering column and aggravated by prolonged usage.
The disconnection of the joystick had a significant impact on the pilot’s ability to control the helicopter.
Six minutes after the pilots alerted the tower of the malfunction, the Apache was on its final approach to land when the pilots lost control and crashed between the two runways on the base.
The head of the Air Force’s Safety and Quality Assurance Department, Col. Yoav, said Zohar’s decision to return to base following the malfunction and despite the difficult flight conditions saved the life of the younger pilot.
“It can be likened to a car ride where you realize there is a malfunction in the steering wheel and the vehicle turns only to the left and not to the right,” he said.
“The team was forced for six minutes, from the moment the malfunction was discovered to the moment of the crash, to cope with a high physical load as well as an extreme situation, and yet they managed to bring the helicopter to the base.”
The wounded pilot, Lt. On, is a nephew of Tomer Gutterman, a deputy squadron commander who was killed in a March 2003 accident when his plane crashed shortly after takeoff.
Described by friends as inseparable, Gutterman and Zohar drafted together and, following Gutterman’s death, Zohar named his son after him.
Following the August crash, former IAF chief Maj.- Gen Amir Eshel grounded the entire fleet of Apache helicopters until a full investigation is completed.
According to the IDF, the investigation, which is being carried out alongside one by the Apache’s US manufacturer, Boeing, and the United States Army, will take another couple of months.
The army stated, however, that the Apache fleet will resume operational activity in the coming weeks.
According to Col. Yoav, the investigation has detected gaps in the installation guidelines for the joysticks, which are installed in Israel after arriving from Boeing.
Because there is no suspicion of negligence, the investigation will examine how the problem with the joystick was not detected during the usual inspections of the helicopters and whether or not such an erosion could be detected at all. Instructions for installing the joysticks are expected to be updated according to the findings of the investigation.
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.
In June, Eshel grounded the entire fleet of Apache helicopters after a technician found a crack in the blade of one of the helicopters during a routine maintenance check. The problem was not found to be widespread and the Apache fleet began to return to operational service in July after the investigation was completed.
The Apache that crashed in August was part of that gradual process.