Israeli Apache helicopter lands at Ramon air base.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
Maj. (res.) David Zohar, who died when his Apache helicopter crash-landed in the South on Monday night, was buried on Tuesday evening in Haifa’s military cemetery.
The preliminary findings of the investigation indicated there was no connection between the tragedy and the reason behind the temporary grounding of the IAF’s Apache fleet earlier this summer.
A senior air force officer familiar with the investigation said on Tuesday that “we can say for certain that it is not related to the issue that happened in June.”
Zohar and his co-pilot alerted the control tower at Ramon Air Base, near Mitzpe Ramon and southwest of Beersheba, that there was a malfunction in the steering system of the tail rotor blades, the officer said.
In June, IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Amir 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. Eshel called for an investigation into what exactly had caused the damage to the blade.
The Apache fleet started operating again in July after the investigation was completed, and according to IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis, the Apache that crashed on Monday night was part of that gradual process.
The senior officer on Tuesday said that the helicopter that crashed had been checked by the IAF and had its blades switched as a result of the investigation.
“I can say that from what we have seen at the crash site is that if it [the accident] were related to the rear rotor blades then they would not be intact like they were,” he said.
“In the kind of emergency that they alerted the tower about it is imperative that the pilots return to base for landing,” the senior officer said, adding that something went wrong during the emergency landing itself.
There has not been a malfunction with the Apache leading to this type of crash in years, the officer said.
The crash that killed Zohar, 43, a father of four, left his co-pilot, who is a lieutenant in active service, in critical condition. He was evacuated to Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba where he underwent surgery overnight and remains in serious condition.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Zohar’s brother Shaul said he “was larger than life.”
“You will not find a better person than him, he raised a wonderful family with four wonderful children. He was a wonderful father, a wonderful brother and a wonderful son, the most wonderful person I ever met,” Walla quoted Shaul as saying.
“Dudi was a pilot in the reserves. He continued his reserve service despite his age because he loved the profession and he loved the men in his squadron. We heard about last night’s crash from a loud knock on the door. It’s still hard for us to believe, it’s hard to grasp, but the entire of people of Israel is behind us,” he said.
While the injured pilot is yet to be named, he was identified as the nephew of Maj. Tomer Gutterman, a deputy squadron commander who was killed in a March 2003 accident when his plane crashed shortly after takeoff.
Gutterman was also a good friend of Zohar – the two men were drafted together and were described by friends as inseparable. After Gutterman’s death, Zohar named a son after him.
The investigation into the crash is being headed by Col. A., the instructor of the Air Force School of Command and former commander of a helicopter squadron. Representatives from the Apache’s American manufacturer Boeing are also expected to join the investigation into the cause of the crash.
According to Manelis, at around 9 p.m. on Monday an A-model Apache helicopter from the “Magic Touch Squadron” was returning from a training exercise when it alerted the control tower at Ramon Air Base that it was experiencing a technical malfunction.
The Apache was on its final approach to land when it crashed inside the base, Manelis said.
He added that there were just moments between the pilots alerting the tower and when it crashed between the two runways of the base.
The head of the IAF’s Equipment Group arrived shortly after the crash with an initial investigative team while Eshel was at the air force’s headquarters at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv to monitor the situation.
Eshel instructed the entire fleet of Apache helicopters to be grounded until the end of the investigation.
The IAF has two squadrons of Apaches that fly out of Ramon Air Base in the Negev and provide close air support for ground troops.